JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The Onslow County Schools Board of Education met Tuesday night and voted 6-1 for an amendment that requires masks be worn for students and staff while in class.
Eric Whitfield was the only member of the board to vote against the amendment. The amendment, brought up by board member Jeff Hudson, was added to the August ruling about masks and will now require maks for students age 5 and older along with all staff.
Before Tuesday’s vote, masks were optional for staff and students. Under the amendment that was voted on and passed, Onslow County Schools will determine any exemptions. That list will be published Wednesday and will be addressed by the school board, Hudson said during the meeting.
The mask mandate for the county goes into effect on Monday (Sept. 13). Before Tuesday, there were five school systems out of the state’s 115 K-12 public school districts that made masks optional: Avery, Onslow, Polk, Union and Yancey counties.
There was over an hour of public discussion before the board made its decision. Several of the board members also gave their input before the vote.
The board stated that as of Tuesday, there were 283 COVID-19 positive students in the school system with 2,291 under quarantine for close contact. There were also 53 positive COVID-19 staff members with 14 others quarantined due to close contact.
“The decision that was made by the board really reflects the idea that we’re working on this as a community,” said Chief Communications Officer for Onslow County Schools Brent Anderson.
School board members tell 9OYS this is a community issue. Officials say the military has expressed COVID-19 concerns impacting mission readiness of the Marines and Sailors in Onslow County. They add they hope this decision will help take the pressure off health care workers. The decision was also based on providing consistent in-person learning for students.
During the school board meeting, people in favor and opposing the mandate had the opportunity to express their views. One mother, Amanda Humphrey, said she’s glad that the school board is listening to health professionals.
“When there’s a situation, you call on a professional, if you can’t handle it. So for me, I’m glad that they’re listening to the area professionals and those across the nation,” said Humphrey.
Shannon Graves is another mother in Onslow County in favor of the mandate.
“Whatever they can do to keep the kids in school as much as possible at this point, I feel is best is the best judgment,” said Graves.
Those against the mandate also expressed their concerns.
“I feel like any right as a parent has been ripped away from me. Because the option to send my children to virtual school if I don’t want them to have a mask on has been taken away,” said Onslow County mom of 2, Heather Hodge.
Local father Dennis Burgard also disagrees with the mandate.
“We’re at the point now, we’re just doing things to do something,” said Burgard.
The school board also adds they will be releasing COVID-19 numbers every Friday online for the entire district.
For now, Onslow County Schools has one message for both sides.
“We’ve got kind of a really noticeable spike at school starting to return. But it’s something that we do need to look at, I think as a community,” said Anderson.