‘We want to stay in school’; Davidson County Schools mandates masks after COVID-19 clusters

Coronavirus

DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) – On Monday the Davidson County Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to require students and staff must wear masks in all school buildings.

It comes after COVID-19 clusters were reported in the district’s schools during the first week of class. It’s a reversal on their decision for optional masking from August 2. 

“Whatever it takes for us to stay in school,” said Alan Beck, chair of the Davidson County Board of Education. “If we have to wear masks, we’re going to wear masks.” 

It was standing room only for parents inside Davis-Townsend Elementary School for the meeting. 

Although the public was not given the chance to speak the crowd made their opinion clear that masking should stay optional. 

“If we can just wear the mask which I’m not in favor of wearing the mask, but at this point, I feel like we have to,” said Beck.

Some parents shouted ‘no more masks’ and ‘you can’t silence parents.’ 

“These are our kids and we’re trying to do the best for them,” said Calyn Shetley, a parent of a Davidson County Schools elementary student. “They may say it’s the best, but not that option is the best for every child.”

Several parents were escorted out of the meeting for speaking out. The vote was met with strong backlash. Many left disappointed, even frustrated, as the board unanimously voted for the mask mandate.

“I hate they feel that way,” Beck said. “I understand why they feel that way. I had a couple of them leave, but by doing that I’m just trying to get them calm so they can hear us.” 

Beck told FOX8 says the decision came as nearly 100 students have tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of school. 

“We want to stay in school,” he said. “We want to make sure we see our kids.”

He said around 500 students are at home quarantining because of possible COVID-19 exposure, but they still need to get an education.

“You have a teacher taking all day to deal with that instead of dealing with in-person learning and so what we’re trying to do is stay away from virtual learning,” Beck said.

The rapid rise of COVID-19 cases has hit staff too. He said it has stretched the school system thin. Dozens of teachers are out sick with the virus. Some principals and central office staff are filling in for teachers who are not able to teach. 

“We’ve already used up all our subs,” he said. “We’re just not getting any subs and we’re not getting any new teachers. It’s across the state trying to get new teachers in, they’re just not there.” 

Superintendent Dr. Emily Lipe told FOX8 students and staff need to be in person and masking may make that possible. She doesn’t want a repeat of last year with virtual learning.

“The number one goal we all have is to keep our schools open for in-person instruction and that means to keep our students enrolled five days a week in person,” she said. “It means to create a safe environment for our staff, for our teachers so that they can be there interacting and engaging with our students.”

After the vote, Shetley is thinking about other options for learning.  

“I’m not sending him to school with a mask,” she said. 

Staff will have masks for students who do not have one. School leaders will review the masking policy every four weeks. 

“My personal opinion is probably the first four weeks it won’t improve,” Beck said. “My hope is the second four weeks that we look at it’s going to improve.”

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