Dare school board adopts mask policy, hears report on COVID funding

Published 11:37 am Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Dare County Board of Education, on a 3-2 vote, adopted a “face coverings” policy on Oct. 12, 2021.

Voting for the policy were board Chair Mary Ellon Ballance, Vice Chair Margaret Lawler and member Frank Hester.

In discussion, member Joe Tauber declared “I’m just tired of the hammer. I’m not voting for a policy” and he didn’t. Member Carl Woody also opposed the policy.

Absent from the meeting at Kitty Hawk Elementary were board members David Twiddy and Susan Bothwell.

A face coverings policy applicable to students and staff is required by General Assembly Session Law for this school term. The school board is required to vote at least once a month on whether the face covering policy should be modified.

The adopted policy follows a model policy provided by the North Carolina School Board Association, which a few modifications suggested by Dare school board attorney Richard Schwartz.

Under the terms of the policy, face coverings must be worn by students, employees and visitors at all times while inside school buildings or in school transportation vehicles. Generally, face coverings are not required outdoors or in personal vehicles, but are required in crowded outdoor settings or in activities with “sustained close contact with other people.”

The policy lists three exemptions and lists seven situations where face coverings are not required. The policy spells out how to wear a mask and the types of masks or face coverings acceptable.

If students forget to bring a mask or face covering, one will be provided. Not complying with the policy is a violation of school rules and students will not be permitted to enter the school.

Refusing to wear a mask or intentionally removing or inappropriately wearing a mask is considered a “form of disruptive behavior.”

Refusal by an employee to wear a mask is considered insubordination and may result in disciplinary action including termination.

Tauber maintained that the policy makes teachers and principals “mask police.”

Superintendent John Farrelly said a “policy will help tremendously.”

A dozen people spoke during the public comment period. Most opposed the board’s mask requirement enacted Sept. 1, 2021. Adopting the policy did not change that decision.

Several speakers referred school board members to the website DaretoShareOBX.org, sponsored by Dare County Citizens for Constitutional Rights.

Speaker Margaret Neal demonstrated a carbon dioxide measuring machine and urged the school board to investigate the dangers.

Amanda Lotas read a four-part Freedom of Information Act request, which includes correspondence from June 2021 to October 2021 from Governor Roy Cooper; the most recent employment contract for Superintendent John Farrelly; an itemized accounting of all coronavirus relief funding; and emails and documents from Sept. 14 to Oct. 12, 2021 about Farrelly’s “interim masking” requirement with an effective date of Oct. 5, 2021.

The request has been formally received by Dare County Schools.

Two more speakers voiced concerns about coronavirus funding.

On a motion by Tauber, the agenda was amended to remove the COVID-19 update report by Sheila Davies, who could not attend the school board meeting. Farrelly was prepared to present her slide show. Tauber objected. “We can’t ask questions!” The vote was 4-1 with Lawler opposing the removal of the item from the agenda.

Farrelly presented a report on state and federal coronavirus funding.

Overall, Dare Schools is pumping 75% of the funding into teaching positions to impact learning loss. “Our plan has been about people,” said Farrelly.

He also said “Not one thing says funding is dependent on masking.”

Farrelly also addressed updates in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit, reviewing the seven- and 10-day requirements to re-enter school for a student with an active COVID-19 case.

To meet statutory and State Board of Education policy requirements, Dare’s board policy committee recommended revisions to Policy 7430 about teacher substitutes.

The revision authorizes teacher assistants to serve as substitute teachers for half or full days at the “additional compensation rate according to state policy.”

After 31 years, the law firm of Schwartz and Shaw is splitting up. Dare’s school board is faced with a decision whether to stay with Richard Schwartz, go to the firm of Poyner Spruill LLC or seek new counsel. The contract with Schwartz and Shaw expires June 30, 2021.

Lawler made the motion to continue with Schwartz and Shaw for the remainder of the contract, which was adopted on a 3-2 vote with Tauber and Woody voting no.

Superintendent Farrelly made the following announcements:

– Digital report cards will go out on Power School on Oct. 29.

– Under the system’s capital improvement plan, playgrounds at Kitty Hawk and First Flight Elementary schools will be updated this school year.

– A board subcommittee with Lawler, Woody and Hester is working to expand teacher housing.

– The teacher leadership program at North Carolina State University attracted 11 applicants from the Dare School system.

– School board member Joe Tauber will be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame on Nov. 14, 2021.

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