WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — In a special called meeting on Wednesday, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education voted to require masks for all students, staff and visitors 5 years old and older in all WS/FCS buildings and means of transportation for the first quarter of the 2021-2022 school year.
“The biggest reason for our decision was really about having kids in school,” said Superintendent Tricia McManus. “I’m looking at this masking as temporary to get us to a place this school year that we can have students free of them.”
The mask requirement was adopted based on a recommendation by McManus. She said it came after hearing from local health leaders and seeing new guidance from the N.C. Strong Schools Toolkit from the Department of Health and Human Services.
In the guidance, if a student is exposed to COVID-19 while wearing a mask and doesn’t show symptoms they do not have to quarantine.
“That could save hundreds of days of learning for so many children,” McManus said. “Having a school year that we are not back and forth with kids, entire classrooms of students having to shut down altogether. We don’t want to ever have to do that again.”
However, if they are exposed to the virus without wearing a mask they would be required to quarantine for 10 days, essentially out of the classroom for two weeks.
Parent Tiffany O’Donnell spoke out at the meeting and called on board members to let parents decide for their children.
“I would prefer my kids be able to breathe, to be able to smile, to be able to learn accurately, to be able to play and not be masked,” O’Donnell said. “If they come into contact with somebody with COVID and they have to quarantine we’ll deal with that when that time comes.”
The masking requirement passed in a six-to-three vote. School board members Dana Caudill Jones, Leah Crowley and Lida Calvert-Hayes voted against the mask recommendation. Jones told FOX8 she was disappointed in what was proposed.
“From the beginning, I think it should be optional,” she said. “Parents, to me, need to have that voice for their child and many of our staff members have the vaccination with the hope they would come back in the fall without having to wear a mask.”
The mask requirements will be reviewed at the end of the first nine weeks of the school year. At that time, the board will vote to reconsider a mask mandate or extend the requirement.
“Students need to be in schools with their teachers and peers,” McManus said. “It is my goal to have as many students in school as possible, safely. I visited summer schools where all the students were wearing masks, and the learning they were doing was amazing. We have worked closely with healthcare partners, local health providers, followed national and state trends and monitored the latest information on COVID cases in Forsyth County, and we feel this is the safest, most responsible way to return to school.”
McManus told FOX8 masking is required for sports practices and games inside buildings. She said there have not been any discussions to require the vaccination status for employees or students, like in Guilford County.
WS/FCS will open for students on Monday, Aug. 23. About 54,000 students are expected to return to 81 elementary, middle and high schools.