Dare school board hears public comments questioning masks; Farrelly reports quarantine numbers are falling

Published 9:03 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Dare school board members continued to hear from upset parents about the system’s mask policy.

On Sept. 1, 2021, before a largely anti-mask crowd, the school board voted to require universal masking inside all school facilities in the Dare system.

On Sept. 14, the school board held its regularly scheduled monthly meeting at First Flight Middle School.

Ten parents spoke during the public comment period. Most used the allotted three minutes to question masks and the board’s masking requirement.

Matt Bandmann said “I will not put a mask on my child.”

Bethany Doyle charged that the school board has not consulted with mask specialists.

“Masks make no logical sense,” said Katie Morgan.

Matt Brauer avowed there is no “conclusive evidence that cloth masks are effective.”

David Bragg said, “You represent us. You do not rule us.”

Audie Ragland related the story of her son who was sent home with a runny nose. His doctor confirmed allergies. A rapid COVID-19 test was negative, but still the family had to wait. He was out of school for four days. At that point, the student was withdrawn from school to become home schooled.

Reese Stecher addressed the issue of no public comment at special meetings: “Not allowing public comment at special meetings is creating a toxic environment.”

Tom Cerino inquired about how COVID-19 funding was used.

Melanie Brewer, who followed, said “sounds like you all sold out for the money.”

Superintendent John Farrelly addressed the COVID-19 funding in a Blackboard posting Sept. 16.

The school system has received $9,343,113 from eight different sources. About $2 million has been spent, including $1 million for mandated summer school.

The system has hired 10 interventionists, 10 curriculum support staff/literacy or math specialists, three school-based Multi-Tiered System of Support coordinators and one school psychologist.

The Blackboard posting says “DCS has been receiving some inquiries regarding whether COVID-19 funding is dependent upon implementing a masking mandate. There is no correlation – funding is not dependent on a masking mandate.”

The Blackboard posting also contained a full-page of allotments and types of expenditures. Asterisks indicate the allotments where funds have been exhausted.

Public comments followed recognitions bestowed on faculty members at First Flight Middle School and an extensive presentation about a program titled AVID – Advancement via Individual Determination. Seventh and eighth grade students told the board skills they were learning in the classroom and post-secondary education plans.

Farrelly said he expected quarantine numbers to continue to drop. On Sept. 7, the system reported 482 students in quarantine; a week later, the number was down to 244. And two days after the board meeting, the student quarantine number was 144.

Farrelly flatly stated the system does not have the ability to offer 10- or seven-day quarantine periods because schools cannot ensure six feet of social distancing throughout the school day.

He also told the board that athletics and time at breakfast and lunch will continue to generate quarantine numbers.

School board member Carl Woody commented “14 days of quarantine is just brutal.”

Board member Joe Tauber said “10 days of quarantine after no symptoms is extremely harsh.”

Farrelly reported on the opportunity for students and parents to change status between face-to-face or virtual learning. Farrelly reported 315 to 318 students are now in virtual learning. During the five-day period, 82 changes were made with 67 students – mainly from high schools – switching to virtual and 15 students going to face-to-face.

The board approved a new school calendar for the current school year. The Board of Elections has decided to use two schools for municipal elections this fall. So, Nov. 3 becomes an optional workday with no school for students.

The board approved changes in the use of school facilities on first reading. The primary change is to allow school staff to use facilities for a sponsored program where there is no charge for students to participate. Another change is that requests for use cannot extend beyond a year from the date of request.

The board deferred decision on a second policy change dealing with face coverings. The policy was provided by the North Carolina School Boards Association. Board member Joe Tauber wanted more time to review the proposed policy.

Farrelly also announced a fully funded master’s degree program in school administration at North Carolina State University available to teachers who want to move into administration. Funding for full tuition in the 18-month program comes from a grant to the university for The NC Principal Fellows Program. Also, candidates will have paid year-long internship. Teachers must apply to North Carolina State by Oct. 10. Candidates participate in an assessment day. The university consults with the superintendent about candidates. Farrelly is hoping for three program candidates from Dare County Schools.

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