BY MIKE FUHRMAN
The Mooresville Graded School District Board of Education voted Tuesday to extend the district’s requirement that all staff and students wear face masks while inside school facilities until February 8.
After a lengthy discussion, board members voted 4 to 1 to continue the mask mandate. Only board member Kerry Pennell voted against the masking requirement.
“We have an obligation to protect the health and safety of our staff and students,” Chairman Roger Hyatt said.
The district will adhere to the control measures outlined on pages 15-16 of the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services toolkit for schools in which masks are required. School sports will be governed by protocols adopted by the N.C. High School Athletics Association.
School officials said the mandate would result in fewer students being excluded from class due to being a close contact.
During an emergency meeting last week, the board began requiring students to mask when they returned to school following the holiday break due to increased community transmission and the recent surge in hospitalizations in Iredell County.
According to MGSD officials:
♦ 11 staff members are currently COVID-19 positive;
♦ 70 students are currently COVID-19 positive; and
♦ 195 students are quarantined due to close contact, including 47 whose close contact occurred in school
Before the mandatory policy was extended on Tuesday, Pennell made a motion to make masks optional for staff and students in district schools except at schools where 1 percent or more of staff and students are positive for COVID-19. Under that proposal, the superintendent would determine each Friday whether each school had exceeded the 1 percent threshold.
Pennell was the only member who voted for that motion.
Earlier during the public comment portion of the meeting, several people urged the board to drop mask requirements and stop following the guidelines in the NCDHHS toolkit.
Teresa Knight told the board that the data relied on by state, county and MGSD offficials does not provide adequate information about the number of quarantined or excluded students who actually get sick. The positivity rate, she said, is misleading.
“Dig deeper, think critically and stand up for our kids,” she said.
Another woman told the board that more than 99 percent of people who test positive for COVID-19 recover, and asserted that 75 percent of those who die have multiple underlying health problems that contributed to their death.
“Covid has never been dangerous or deadly for healthy children,” she said. “What is your knee-jerk reaction to put students back in masks.”
Board members said their decision was driven by speaking with medical doctors and public health officials, reviewing the recommendations of CDC and NCDHHS professionals and other trusted sources.
“We have to put in precautionary measures and do our part,” board member Rakeem Brawley said.
In other business, the board reviewed to options for the district’s calendar for the 2022-2023 academic year:
♦ Option 1: The school year would begin for students on August 10, 2022, and graduation would be held on May 27, 2023. The first semester would end before the Christmas break, and include a spring break and Easter break. This option largely mirros the Mitchell Community College calendar.
♦ Option 2: The school year would begin for students on August 29, 2022, and graduation would be held on June 10, 2023. The first semester would run through the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in January.
Members of the MGSD calendar committee and administrators who were surveryed “overwhelmingly” preferred Option 1, Chief Operations Officer Michael Royal said.
Staff and students will be surveyed about their preference in the coming weeks.