NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Students and staff will no longer need to wear masks in New Hanover County public schools, starting Wednesday morning.
Face coverings will continue to be required on buses and in federally funded pre-K programs. Volunteers will continue to wear masks when in classrooms.
In a 4-3 vote, the New Hanover County Board of Education voted on the change to its mask policy Tuesday night during its monthly reconsideration, which is required by state law. Board member Pete Wildeboer made a quick motion and was seconded by vice-chair Nelson Beaulieu. They received support from Stephanie Kraybill and Hugh McManus, who last month voted to continue the mask mandate. At the time, it appeared the consensus of the board was to hold off until after the holidays to repeal the requirement, despite protest from Wildeboer and Beaulieu.
This time around, McManus suggested the board should follow the lead of the county’s health and human services board, which decided in November to end the countywide indoor face covering mandate.
“I would like to follow that up by saying, if the numbers go up, and if they do, we’re going to have to rethink and talk about it,” he said.
Board member Stephanie Walker responded, “They already have.” Along with chair Stefanie Adams and member Judy Justice, she rejected the motion.
Between August (when the county and school district implemented their masking policies) and November, the local percent positivity rate fell from over 15% to around 2.5%. The local rate is back up to 5%, with 367 cases confirmed over the past 14 days. In the school system, 35 cases of Covid-19 were reported last week. That’s down from 200-plus cases in early September but is still considered an uptick compared to recent weeks. It is the highest total since the week of Oct. 11 when the district confirmed 38 cases.
“If we are trying to keep our students in school, masks are the way to go,” Adams said. “And I’m going to stay steadfast with that, and that’s how I feel. It’s about the safety and protection of our students and staff.”
Per state guidance, students exposed to Covid-19 do not need to quarantine if everyone in the room was appropriately masked and they are asymptomatic. Adams noted that NHCS assigned 23 quarantines last week. Meanwhile, Brunswick County Schools, which does not have a mask mandate, reported more than 300 quarantines.
The school board will revisit the issue during its next regular meeting on Jan. 4.
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