BY KARISSA MILLER
Face masks will be mandatory for Iredell-Statesville Schools students and staff for at least the rest of this month and half of February.
A motion to continue the district’s mask mandate through February 14 was approved by the I-SS Board of Education by a 5-2 vote on Monday night.
Board members Sam Kennington, Doug Knight, Martin Page and Bryan Shoemaker and Vice chairman Charles Kelly voted in favor of the requirement. Board members Bill Howell and Chairman Todd Carver voted against the motion.
All North Carolina public school boards are required by state law to hold a public vote every month on their masking policies. The board will take up the issue again during its February 14 board meeting.
“It’s ludicrous what we have to do. I wish we could stop it tonight. Our hands are tied,” Shoemaker said.
“It’s not a science argument anymore. It’s keeping kids in a classroom. That’s where it’s been rough for me,” Knight said, stating it has come down to politics.
“We have to keep kids in school. Especially those who are at-risk,” he added.
Howell, who has consistently opposed masking requirements since the beginning of the school year, said that he’s opposed to the mandate because the district continues excluding kids from school who are healthy, among with other reasons.
Boen Nutting, chief of Strategic Planning and Student Services for I-SS, said that the N.C. Strong Schools toolkit has been updated for schools that have mask mandates.
For example, if you have two kids sitting beside each other at lunch who take their masks off to eat and one later tests positive, under the previous guidelines both kids would have been sent home and excluded from school.
Under the new state guidelines, since I-SS requires masks both students could stay at school as long as they aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19, she explained.
Iredell County is classified as a high-transmission county with a positivity rate of 29.78. Last week, 219 students didn’t return to school on January 5 after the holiday break due to testing positive for COVID-19.
Carver proposed a new idea of potentially making mask mandates individualized for each school.
The chairman said that he reached out to each board member to consider a 1-percent threshold of COVID-19 positives. If 1 percent of staff and students at a particular school tested positive, that school would have to mask.
“As we approach our 1-percent number, we would have a warning,” Carver said.
That proposal mirrors the approach the Mooresville Graded School District took before voting last week to require masks when students returned to school after the holiday break.
The I-SS Board directed Superintendent Jeff James to prepare a report that includes looking at the 1-percent plan—the pros and cons–and looking at a way to keep students in school as much as possible.
The plan will be presented at the February 7 Committee of the Whole meeting.
The board also requested the superintendent talk with legislators, the county health department and other entities and districts to help inform the board’s decision on masking next month.
Learn more about changes to the NC Strong Schools toolkit HERE.