ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C. (WECT) – The Bladen County School Board voted to approve a mask mandate for all students and staff for the new school year, regardless of vaccination status, at a meeting Friday evening.
The vote passed 6-2 with board member Tim Benton and chair Roger Carroll casting the dissenting votes.
Students and staff will be required to wear masks at all times for school, including on buses, except during outdoor activities.
The schools will still consider mask exemption requests on an individual basis for medical or behavioral challenges.
The Bladen County Board of Education held an emergency meeting Friday evening “for the purpose of discussing and taking action on COVID-19 protocols.”
During the discussion, which was heated at times, board members debated whether the decision should be made by the board for the good of all students or whether the choice should be left to individual families.
Board member Glen McCoy urged members to make the right decision.
“This is the most important decision we will make on this board,” said McCoy.
Board member Tim Benton was in favor of the parents’ right to choose what is right for their families.
“Parents should have the right to raise their children as they see fit,” said Benton.
The school nurse explained that one unmasked individual who tests positive puts 10 other individuals into quarantine, whether they are wearing masks or not, if they were in close contact with the one infected individual for 15 minutes or more. But if masks are mandated for all, only the infected individual is required to quarantine.
The following statement was released after the meeting:
This action is necessary due to the high level of transmission from the Delta variant of COVID-19 in our community and in an effort to keep students and staff members in school for in-person learning. We all know how important it is for our students to return to in-person learning, five days a week. A universal mask policy will protect the health of our school community, and should also greatly reduce the need to quarantine students named a close contact to a COVID positive case. Per NCDHHS and local health leaders, non-symptomatic students wearing a mask consistently and correctly do not have to automatically quarantine if they are named a close contact. Correct and consistent mask use is a critical step everyone can take to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19 and can assist with contact tracing, which, in many cases, allows students and staff to remain in school and our athletic programs to continue.
The Board will continue to evaluate the rate of transmission in Bladen County and will review the mask policy at least monthly throughout the school year.
Currently, the COVID-19 positivity rate in Bladen County is 17.5% and in North Carolina is 11.9%.
Previously, on Aug. 9, the board voted to not require masks for students and staff, instead, choosing to encourage mask usage.
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