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Dare school board decides for parental choice for masks

Dare County Board of Education voted 6-1 last Thursday for parental choice regarding face coverings for students in Dare schools, effective Aug. 23, 2021, the first day of the 2021-22 school term.

Board member Joe Tauber made the motion, which was seconded by member David Twiddy.

On the question of staff and face coverings, the board voted on a Twiddy motion, seconded by Susan Boswell, to give staff choice.

Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly warned that student quarantine numbers will escalate. Farrelly recommended universal masking in all grades.

After a detailed presentation by Sheila F. Davies, director Dare County Department of Health & Human Services and Public Health, and Farrelly, the board made decisions on seven topics.

The first issue was promoting vaccinations. Twiddy immediately said “do nothing to promote vaccines.” Tauber seconded. Asked if some referral information could be posted on the school system’s website, Twiddy responded, “don’t put it on our website.” The board supported in the motion unanimously.

The decision about face coverings followed. Board vice chair Margaret Lawler cast the lone dissenting vote. She abstained on the staff face covering decision.

masks

 Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy photo

A Twiddy motion to require visitors to wear masks was withdrawn. In discussion, it was revealed that parents are categorized as visitors. The board adopted another Twiddy motion, seconded by Boswell, that visitors not be required to wear masks. The vote was unanimous.

The next issue was whether to offer virtual school. Last year, offering a virtual educational alternative was mandated. It is not this year. Additionally, the board had decided at the end of last year not to offer virtual schooling.

In his presentation, Farrelly told the board that the system in place last year was not “sustainable financially or through existing staffing.”

In his presentation, Farrelly said the system could offer a “significantly scaled down” version. For grades 6 through 12, two virtual systems are already available to Dare County Schools: APEX and North Carolina Virtual Public School. The model would require a small group of teachers to monitor grades and attendance and be available to answer questions.

For grades K through 5, a small group of five to six elementary teachers would offer limited live virtual meetings along with other types of work.

Farrelly also said that no dual language immersion classes could be offered virtually.

Tauber made the motion to offer a virtual option to all students with the requirement that students opt in for the entire semester. Twiddy objected, saying students need to be back in school. Boswell argued that parents who wanted masks should have a choice. The vote was 6-1, with Twiddy objecting.

Board attorney Richard Schwartz told the board that pending legislation in the General Assembly tries to eliminate the virtual option. “You may have to revisit this,” said the attorney.

Farrelly reported that registration for virtual school would be out on Monday, Aug. 9.

Conducting daily symptom screening and temperature checks was the next topic.

Board chair Mary Ellon Ballance agreed with Farrelly that the three symptom screening questions could be dropped. The questions were required to be answered every school morning by every student.

On a motion by Tauber and seconded by member Frank Hester, the system will require the use of the temperature screening devices, which Dare County commissioners purchased for $80,000 last year. The machines, stationed at school entrances, require one staff member to monitor.

The CDC requires that masks be worn on school buses. The issue is whether students should socially distance while buses are underway. Last year, one student per seat, except for siblings, was required.

Farrelly said that if last year’s system was in place, schedules would need to be modified.

Twiddy made the motion, seconded by Tauber, not to enforce social distancing on school buses. The decision was unanimous.

Offering COVID testing by Dare County Schools was also turned down.

Collecting vaccination data of staff and students was a moot point, as Farrelly reported that the Dare County Health Department has that information.

The crowd was decidedly anti-mask.

During the two informational presentations, three times the crowd erupted into cheers or boos and applause. Three times, school board chair Ballance banged the gavel to quiet the crowd and warned about clearing the First Flight High School gymnasium.

On the fourth outbreak, Ballance asked Dare County Sheriff’s deputies to clear the room.

Shouting greeted the decision. “You’re breaking the law.” Freedom of speech was heralded to undergird the words. The board recessed.

When the board returned, Ballance gave the crowd a “last chance.”

The crowd stayed and remained quiet.

As to quarantined students, Farrelly reported “students who are quarantined this year will receive assignments and work from their teacher of record. The delivery of work (hard copies sent or emailed home, access to virtual classrooms such as Google classroom etc.) will be determined by the individual teacher and will be asynchronous. There will not be a synchronous delivery of instruction during quarantine periods of time.”

The quarantine timeline has not changed, with the standard 14 days in place along with 10 days and seven days with conditions.

In her presentation, Sheila Davies said that from August 1-5, 29 resident children between the ages of 4 and 17 tested positive; 13 are in elementary grades, four in middle grades and 12 in high school.

She reported that 652 people between 12 and 19 are fully vaccinated, with 59 partially vaccinated.

She urged the board to follow the recommendations of the CDC, the American Pediatric Association and North Carolina Health and Human Services and require universal masking.

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