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Dare school board votes for indoor universal masking

The Dare County Board of Education voted unanimously to require universal masking indoors in all its school facilities, effective Thursday, September 2, 2021.

The board took the action in a special called meeting in the First Flight High School gymnasium on Wednesday evening, September 1.

Six of the seven board members were present. The meeting was conducted by Vice Chair Margaret Lawler in the absence of Chair Mary Ellon Ballance, who joined by telephone.

The meeting was not without rancor. Two people were escorted out of the gymnasium by Dare County Sheriff’s Office deputies for disturbing the conduct of the board’s business.

In his presentation, Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly recommended universal masking.

Farrelly’s presentation included the figures about the growing positive cases and quarantine numbers.

On August 23, the first day of school, active student cases numbered 32 with 78 students in quarantine. Both Farrelly and Assistant Superintendent Sandy Kinzel reported that notification came from the Dare County Health and Human Services Department. Some active cases were related to athletics, others related to household transmission and still others from summer camps.

On September 1, the active case total was 78, with 399 students in quarantine status.

Farrelly reported “of the 399 students currently in quarantine, 350 of those students would not have been quarantined if they were wearing a face mask. The other 49 students were identified as close contacts through non-classroom situations such as sports and community.”

Staff numbers reported were seven active cases on August 23 with three in quarantine and nine active cases on September 1 with eight in quarantine.

Board members pursued questioning about universal masking and quarantine.

The North Carolina StrongSchoolsNC: Public Health Toolkit (K-12) offers the guidance followed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Dare County Department of Health and Human Services. The exact language in that document is reprinted at the end of this article.

In summary, a student not fully vaccinated does not have to quarantine after close contact with someone positive for COVID-19 in school if “masks were being worn appropriately and consistently by both the person with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed person.”

Board member Joe Tauber asked if the Dare County Health Department can come into a school and pull a student out. The answer from board attorney Richard Schwartz was “yes.”

Farrelly also said that those 399 currently in quarantine would have to serve out remaining days.

Lawler made the motion to require universal masking.

And the meeting was immediately disrupted by a man shouting from the top of the bleachers. Sheriff deputies removed him. Lawler read a warning about interruption of the proceedings. A woman started shouting. Lawler asked that she be removed. Deputies escorted her out of the meeting as she continued to shout.

The crowd calmed down a little.

Farrelly asked that the motion be reread. Lawler did that and waited for a second. Susan Bothwell voiced a second and, said a little later, so the board’s discussion could proceed.

During that discussion, board member Carl Woody asked if the motion could include a “trigger” of some sort to rescind the universal mask requirement when conditions might improve.

Farrelly responded that the board will review the policy on a monthly basis and can change the policy at any time.

Ballance via phone said that since the health department determines who is quarantined, the only way to keep students in schools is in masks. “We’re really at the mercy of the local health department . . .”

Board member David Twiddy piggybacked on the statement, “I want to keep schools open for our students.”

Tauber said the board was still in favor of parental rights on this issue and also vaccination. He pointed out the hypocrisy when students leave the school, masks come off and they enter a community where very few people are wearing masks. This comment drew applause.

He continued bringing up the issue of active cases among non-residents, saying that no one is calling for stopping the influx of visitors. This again brought applause, with Lawler gaveling down the crowd.

Tauber leveled criticism on those that offer scientific opinion as fact. He called for agreeing to disagree. “Let’s have a civil dialogue.”

He then commented “the governor has chosen not to do what he did in March 2020.” He wondered where he is. “He could have taken that decision out of our hands.”

Bothwell read a prepared statement arguing for choice and lamented “this virus is never going away.”

Board member Frank Hester said “this has been a trying time” and also argued that “parents should have more say.”

Woody asked about medical exemptions. Kinzel responded that forms are available at all schools for permitting medical exemptions and many are already on file since masks are required on buses.

On a voice vote, the board voted unanimously to institute universal masking in Dare County Schools facilities. With that vote, the Dare became the 108th of 115 school systems to require universal masking.

As the board moved on to the second recommendation, many members of the crowd left. Lawler called for a recess while the exodus continued.

Farrelly’s second recommendation was to allow status change for remote learning.

The vote was 6-1 with Twiddy opposing. The information for that can be found at the end of this article.

Recommendation three was to limit non-essential visitors as determined by the lead administrator of a facility. The board unanimously approved this recommendation.

Recommendation four was to amend an August 5 policy not to actively promote vaccinations. The board voted to create an online link on the system’s website to the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 website. The vote was 6-1 with Tauber opposing.

In discussion, Tauber said that by linking to the health division website, by inference “we are, in fact, supporting vaccination.”

The Dare Board of Education next meets September 14 at 5 p.m.

Dare BOE permits status change for virtual learning

One of four recommendations approved by the Dare County Board of Education September 1, 2021 is to provide parental option to change students to face-to-face instruction or remote learning. Currently, 260 students are registered for remote learning.

A decision must be made by 5 p.m. on Monday, September 6, 2021.

Dare Schools administrators issued the following information around 9:45 a.m. on September 2:

“Parents/guardians that wish to change their child’s assignment to virtual or face-to-face instruction should complete the “September 2021: Virtual Status Change Form (K-12)” located in PowerSchool Parent Portal by Monday, September 6th at 5:00 p.m. There is an image attached of the form’s location in PowerSchool.

“Please note the following about switching to virtual learning:

“Elementary (Grades K-5)

“Elementary students will be assigned a DCS teacher. Instructional delivery will be both synchronous and asynchronous. There is the potential for live virtual meetings to be limited.

“Secondary (Grades 6-12)

“The 6-12 model will be primarily delivered asynchronously through APEX Learning and North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) courses. There is the potential for students to be assigned a DCS teacher that will monitor grades, attendance and be available for student questions or support. Courses in Virtual Learning will be limited. All high courses offered in the virtual program will be semester classes only. Students should not expect a replication of their current schedule. However, the required core classes will be offered, along with some electives. No honors or Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses will be offered. Advanced Placement courses will be offered through the North Carolina Virtual Public School.

“Dual Language Immersion

“The Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program (K-4) is not delivered virtually. If a student in DLI is enrolled in virtual learning, they will be placed in a traditional virtual classroom. Current DLI students in kindergarten and 1st-grade students who choose virtual are not guaranteed their spot in DLI if they choose virtual. There are waiting lists at some schools, so we cannot hold these spots. However, students can enter DLI until December of first grade, so depending on space students could enter the program if they came back face-to-face at the semester change. We will hold the spots of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-grade DLI students who choose virtual for the first semester until the semester change in January. Contact Johanna Parker, parkerjo@daretolearn.org with questions.”

Schools and Quarantining

From StrongSchoolsNC: Public Health Toolkit (K-12) Interim Guidance, Published June 8, 2020; Updated August 2021, p. 16

“Quarantine is required for an individual who has been a close contact (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes cumulatively over a 24-hour period) of someone who is determined positive with COVID-19 either through testing or symptom consistent diagnosis, with the following three exceptions:…

“• Students who are not fully vaccinated after a close contact in a classroom or other school setting if masks were being worn appropriately and consistently by both the person with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed person do NOT need to quarantine.

Another exception is “Individuals who are fully vaccinated and do not have symptoms do NOT need to quarantine after a close contact. Individual should get tested 3-5 days after exposure and wear a mask around others until receiving a negative test result.”

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