Union County Board of Education rejects pleas of Public Health Director, keeps masks optional

At last night’s virtual emergency meeting, the Union County Board of Education received an update from staff which included alarming spikes in local COVID rates and pleas from the Public Health Director that the district require students and staff to wear masks in schools.

The board still voted 7-2 to keep masks optional.

Assistant Superintendent Jarrod McCraw presented the COVID update and informed the board about the following trends in Union County’s health:

Percent positivity rate:

June 18: 2.5%
August 18: 13.9%

New daily cases (7 day average):

June 18: 6.7/day
August 18: 125/day

5-18 year old age group:

July 18: 48 positive cases
July 25: 104 positive cases
August 1: 169 positive cases

McCraw also related his conversations with Union County Public Health Director Dennis Joyner, including Joyner’s strong recommendation that the district follow the face covering guidance in the NCDHHS Strong Schools toolkit, which he paraphrased as saying “All schools should require children and staff in schools K-12 to wear face coverings consistently when indoors. Schools should make masks universally required regardless of vaccination status.”

The assistant superintendent offered three reasons for asking the board to require masks. First, he cited public health concern over the increase in COVID numbers. Secondly, he mentioned that it would reduce the number of students having to miss school because of quarantine. Finally, he said masking would reduce the amount of time school nurses had to devote to contact tracing and allow them to focus on general health and wellness.

Board chair Melissa Merrell said it was her understanding that COVID numbers were actually trending downward. She expressed confusion over McCraw’s request that masks be required, saying that the number of children who were infected with the virus didn’t represent a significant number of overall cases:

“We’re in the business of educating students. And those students, we’ve been looking at ages 5-18, and that’s only 14% of this, you know, in your words not mine, trending upward.”

The board then entered closed session. Upon returning, a motion was made by board member John Kirkpatrick to heed district and health department recommendations and begin the year with students masked. The motion failed 7-2 with only Joe Morreale and Kirkpatrick supporting it.

In addition to rejecting the advice of its county health director, the board’s decision ignores the cautionary tale offered by Union Academy, a 2000-student charter school in Union County which began the school year July 26 with a mask policy that essentially made them optional.

The school was immediately hit with a COVID outbreak which forced hundreds of students to miss classes due to quarantine. Masks are now required at Union Academy.

Union County’s choice also bucks a recent local trend, with Gaston County and Cabarrus County–both similarly conservative boards–reversing decisions this week and electing to require masks.

When schools open on Monday, August 23, Union County Public Schools 41,500 students and 5,000 staff members will make it the largest district in the state to allow individuals to go unmasked in buildings.

NC Superintendent opposes Duke scientists’ recommendations on masks in schools

Just weeks after touting the group’s report on 2020-21 COVID spread in NC schools, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Schools Catherine Truitt has come out in stark opposition to the ABC Collaborative’s recommendations on masking for the upcoming school year, saying, “I want students in school this fall, unmasked.”

The ABC Collaborative is a group of National Institutes of Health-funded North Carolina scientists and physicians, primarily from Duke University, who are working to advise school leaders on COVID-safe practices.

At the end of June the group released a report on COVID mitigation measures in NC schools during the 2020-21 school year, finding the schools “did an outstanding job preventing within-school transmission of COVID‐19.”

Superintendent Truitt released a statement citing the group’s report as evidence that schools could successfully operate during the pandemic and advocating for local control over operational decisions such as masking.

But Truitt abandoned her call for local decision making on masks in a recent conversation with NC GOP Chairman Michael Watley, calling on all North Carolina school districts to take the masks off:

Today the co-chairs of the ABC Collaborative, Dr. Kanecia Zimmerman and Dr. Danny Benjamin, published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “We studied one million students. This is what we learned about masking.”

In the piece, Zimmerman and Benjamin cite universal masking as a “close second” behind vaccination as the best way to prevent COVID-19, warning “If we send students to school without masks, we increase their risk of acquiring COVID-19. Some could suffer illness or die.”

After pointing to recent outbreaks of the virus among unmasked, unvaccinated youth, the scientists asked:

“With the evidence now clear that universal masking is linked to lower spread, why not require universal masking? Why seek to gather hundreds of unvaccinated, unmasked individuals in an enclosed space for several hours a day, five days a week?”

It’s a question North Carolina Superintendent of Schools Catherine Truitt needs to answer.

Antimaskers “overthrow” Buncombe County Board of Education over K-12 mask mandate

You might think you know just how far off the rails the science-denying antimask crowd has gone in its efforts to ensure that students in North Carolina’s schools do not have to take common sense safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID.

You’d be wrong.

At an August 5 meeting where the Buncombe County Board of Education had just voted 4-2 to require masks in schools, audience members launched their own mini-January 6 insurrection, choosing new “board members,” and holding a new vote on the mask issue.

The bizarre charade was orchestrated by a woman identified by the Asheville Citizen-Times as Stephanie Parsons. In the tirade that preceded the “coup,” Parsons claimed the figure of 48% unvaccinated in Buncombe County meant 48% of the population did not agree with the mask mandate. She added that the North Carolina Constitution states “if you are not happy with the government that you are to abolish it,” then went on to unilaterally elect a new board via a method called “whoever is crazy enough to stand up and come down here is elected.”

The new “board” unanimously decided masks would be optional.

You can watch the entire surreal episode below:

Cabarrus Board of Education Vice Chair blames pandemic on COVID-infected “illegal aliens”

Just when you think the Cabarrus Board of Education can’t lower its bar any further…

At tonight’s meeting, Vice Chair Tim Furr blamed the ongoing COVID pandemic on infected “illegal aliens” who are being allowed in by our government and sent all over the United States on buses.

Furr’s racist comments, which are transcribed and captured in video below, were interrupted by an incredulous Keshia Sandidge, who asked, “Are we serious right now? Are we serious right now?” before being admonished by board chair Holly Grimsley.

Furr’s rant:

Until this government keeps illegal aliens by the thousands coming across that border without masks, with COVID, putting ’em on buses, sending ’em all over the United States, we’re just beating our heads against the wall.  Because these numbers are gonna continue to rise, and we’re gonna be having this same discussion day after day and week after week.