Beaufort County Schools reverses course, requires masks for first 30 days of school year

School Watch

WASHINGTON, N.C. (WNCT) — Beaufort County Schools became the latest to reverse course and require face masks for all students and staff for the upcoming school year.

The BCS school board held a special meeting on Wednesday and voted 6-3 to require masks for all students and staff on campus and for buses and other school vehicles. The mandate will be put into effect when the school year begins this Monday.

The vote for masks to be optional was made because of lower COVID-19 cases. This week, Beaufort County health director Jim Madson said they’re seeing over 20 COVID cases per week. That’s why the board ultimately decided to change its decision.

“It’s really about the probability of keeping kids in schools, how can we increase the probability of maintaining the school environment,” said Beaufort County Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman during the Zoom meeting.

Keeping kids in school is another motivating factor for board members, and they believe masking will help do that.

“We’re not living in the same world we were three weeks ago when we made this decision,” said school board member Terry Williams. “What I’m more concerned about is keeping the kids in school.”

Mask or no mask: What Pitt County, other school systems in ENC have decided

Back on July 27, the school board met and voted unanimously to make face masks optional. Since then, cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 have forced changes. Also in play is the fact Gov. Roy Cooper, NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, and State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson sent a letter to school boards that had not adopted the StrongSchoolsNC NC Public Health Toolkit, urging them to protect their students and staff in the new school year.

“The board likely thought as though it was a safe option to do optional masks based off the data and conversations they had,” Cheeseman said. “And now bringing the board back together, the data has changed, the conversation has changed and school is starting.”

That’s why Cheeseman called for this emergency meeting on Wednesday.

“Monday is the start of school, and we need to have a few days to give direction to our employees,” Cheeseman said.

The board also decided it would revisit the decision in 30 days.

“That 30-day re-evaluation allows them to look at the frequency of data and how fast it may change,” said Cheeseman. “The fact they want to revisit shows their thirst for being informed with the most up-to-date information.”

Cheeseman says this re-evaluation will allow them to make sure this is the right decision moving forward.

“We’re not certain if this is the right decision,” he said. “You’re not going to know weeks, months down the line. Right now we’re going to work on structuring it to make sure these are the right actions at this time.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Carteret County Public Schools board of education met and also reversed its course, requiring masks for at least the first two weeks of the school year. The board will meet on Sept. 7 to evaluate the mandate and decide if it should continue or if it can be lifted.

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