The New Hanover County Board of Education voted again to keep his mask tenure in place amid another board meeting filled with protests and angry voters.
The board of directors is required by the state to reassess its mask mandate each month. Masks are compulsory since the start of the school year. The mandate was passed again 6-1, with Pete Wildeboer the only vote against.
“Our school is probably one of the safest places for our children,” said Judy Justice, board member. “Overall we have done well for our kids… I’m happy to see that even though we review this every month, we are still thinking about doing the right thing.”
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The school district is also required to follow county health guidelines. The New Hanover County Department of Health and Human Services voted on September 3 to implement a mask mandate in public spaces, so even if the school board voted to make masking optional, the county would still demand that anyone inside a school building wears masks.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the Board of Education Center ahead of the mask vote, urging the council to vote to make masks optional. They carried signs with statements such as “bodily autonomy is essential” and “we the people do not need permission to breathe”.
After a protester was told to leave by law enforcement, he told the group to move grass to the gates of the center. Protesters intended to enter, but law enforcement blocked the door and did not allow anyone to enter without a mask. Some of the protesters put on masks and entered the building to place their signs inside, then immediately returned outside.
Protesters also played Christian music on a loudspeaker, and when an officer tried to turn it off, the loudspeaker’s owner told him “I wouldn’t do that.” Protesters also said a prayer for the sheriff’s deputies in attendance, asking God to forgive them for their sins.
“We’re going to set up the marquee here because you’re all a bunch of clowns,” one person shouted at the officers standing at the gates.
The same protester said they would be back in greater numbers in November.
Last month, at the regular meeting in September, a group of a dozen parents were withdrawn from the public after refusing to wear a mask. Board chair Stefanie Adams has repeatedly asked them to put on masks or leave the meeting.
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The group became agitated and threatened to sue the board of directors as they were escorted out of the building by law enforcement. Several said that as taxpayers it is their right to be able to attend the meeting.
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Board Chair Stefanie Adams reminded audience members that everyone is required to wear a mask when attending the meeting. If someone doesn’t want to wear a mask, they should leave and watch the district meeting live instead, she said.
A member of the public was removed from the meeting by law enforcement for speaking in turn when she asked why speakers on the public call were required to wear masks.
Adams then decided to allow speakers to remove their masks.
Anti-mask protesters have been in attendance at numerous school board meetings in recent months, pushing the district to make masking optional at school and questioning those entering the Board of Education Center about their choice to wear a mask.
North Carolina allows school boards to make decisions about masking and must reassess the situation each month. In Pender County, the school board voted to switch to optional masking from Monday after switching from optional to compulsory at the start of the school year, as many activities were halted due to outbreaks.
During the week of September 27, schools in New Hanover County reported 72 new positive cases of COVID-19, a sharp drop from a month ago when the district had more than 200 new positive cases during the week September 6, according to the district COVID. -19 dashboard.
Several board members continue to advocate for mandatory masking as a way to keep students in school full-time and prevent entire classes or schools from being quarantined due to contact tracing.
The school district will also move forward with a partnership with New Hanover County Health and Human Services and Coastal Horizons to provide COVID-19 tests and vaccinations at the school. Staff and students with parental consent will have access to resources to prevent the spread of the virus and further protect people in schools. Deputy Superintendent Julie Varnam said there is currently no timeline for adding resources to schools.
Journalist Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or [email protected]