JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Onslow County Schools released a draft of the COVID-19 protocols for the 2021-2022 academic school year.  

OCS officials said they are committed to providing students and staff with a safe, secure, and healthy high-quality in-person learning environment. The draft COVID-19 Protocols and Practices describes the protocols and procedures OCS will use to guide these efforts.  

Upon approval of these protocols, the Onslow County Board of Education will not require face coverings or masks for students or staff. All students, staff, and community members are encouraged to make their own decisions regarding their personal health as to whether to wear a face-covering or mask. 

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“We are really interested in getting the information out there to our community and letting them know, ‘hey this is what we’re looking at?’ and that way everyone is prepared, and we know as much as we can before we go back into school starting on August 23rd,” said Chief Communications Officer for Onslow County Schools Brent Anderson. 

The board unanimously voted for Onslow County Schools superintendent and staff to develop COVID-19 protocols during their meeting on June 29th. Since then, a lot of news has come out about whether or not schools should enforce masks.  

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“A lot of things have changed or become a little different in the time that we have started working on these until now so that could certainly figure into information that the board is going to have as they move forward and make those final decisions on August 10th,” said Anderson. 

They are trying to take into account these changes, as well as feedback from the public. 

“We’re asking people to make a comment on that by the 6th of August. That will give us time to kind of make through all the information. We’re kind of doing it as we go along,” said Anderson. 

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According to OSC, the past year and a half has been unlike any that they have seen in education. They add students in Onslow County have been in a deficient since Hurricane Florence 3 years ago when they missed about 30-40 days of school.  

“So, our students are already at a little bit of a deficient, so anything that we can do that is going to be beneficial in terms of an instructional ability for teachers to have better communications with the kids,” said Anderson. 

They want people to know that if this is passed, they will still take safety precautions while trying to return to normal. 

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“The more normal we can make things, the better it’s going to be. And we’re certainly going to be taking the precautions that we can to make sure our kids and staff are safe but doing what we can to make sure the instructional environment is going to be as normal as possible for our kids,” said Anderson. 

Harassment, discrimination, bullying, or intimidation based on any person’s decision to wear or not wear a face covering or mask will not be tolerated, according to OCS.  

Prior to the motion and discussion, OCS BOE Chairman Bob Williams read a statement wherein he recognized the district’s compliance with the guidance issued by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) over the past year. However, Chairman Williams shared that the Board “believes that it is time for the Board to assume the role of developing COVID-19 protocols that reflect the local health conditions of our community and our schools.” Mr. Williams also noted, “The School Board believes that health decisions for staff and students are personal decisions between them and their physicians.” 

According to the Onslow County Health Department, the CDC’s dashboard says 43 percent of the county is at least partially vaccinated. They add there is still time to get kids in to get their vaccine before the school year starts.  

“If they haven’t already gotten their vaccine,” said Community Relations Officer for the Onslow County Health Department Victoria Reyes. “This is the perfect time because they would almost be pretty much almost covered before school starts.” 

The draft COVID-19 Protocols and Practices for the 2021-2022 School Year can be found in the OCS Reopening Information under Onslow County Schools in the News on the district’s website.  

Comments and/or feedback on the proposal may be submitted to reopening2021@onslow.k12.nc.us. The Onslow County Board of Education will make final approval of the protocols at their regular August meeting.