JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — After a lengthy discussion that got testy at times, the Onslow County Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday to maintain a mask requirement for students and staff.
The board voted 5-1 to continue the mask mandate. Eric Whitfield was the only board member not at Tuesday’s meeting for the vote.
The issue will be brought up again at next month’s meeting as part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s requirement that school systems continue to monitor and determine what is best for their students and teachers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, a protest was held outside the Onslow County Schools building against the mask mandate.
“It should be about the children and the parents being parents,” said Steven Reed, who was at the protest and Tuesday’s board meeting. “They are not the parents. They were voted in to represent the parents and the kids so that’s who they should be put first.”
After the protest, many parents took their case to the school board.
“We don’t have a mask problem in this county. We don’t have a super spreader problem in the school. We don’t even have a COVID problem. We have a fear problem,” one parent told the board.
Many parents who spoke said the required face mask is a hindrance for their children.
“My daughter has been sent to ISS 13 times and isolated away from her friends for violating the dress code because she is not wearing a mask,” another parent told the board. “Which I would like to point out is not part of the dress code. We are picking her up at 12 every day so she is counted present and will continue to do so until something is changed.”
School board member Joseph Speranza was in agreement with most board members that students should be in the classroom, which means masks should continue to be worn.
“Students learn better in school … two weeks in we figured out we failed at our job,” Speranza said. “Our job is to educate children. It’s not positive numbers … our problem and where we failed, we had 2,300 healthy kids sitting at home not getting an education.”
On Sept. 7, the school board voted 6-1 to require masks be worn for students and staff. Before that, masks were optional. The mask mandate went into effect Sept. 13.
According to new data presented Tuesday by Superintendent Barry Collins, the change worked. The school system went from 2,300 quarantines at the beginning of September to 250 at the end of the month.