Wayne County Public Schools students have the option of wearing a mask in the classroom during the 2021-22 academic year.
The school district’s Board of Education approved the measure 4-2 during its annual monthly meeting Monday afternoon.
The decision comes after Gov. Roy Cooper re-implemented an indoor mask policy for K-12 students this fall after a recent escalation in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta mutation.
He, along with state health officials, updated the Strong Schools NC Public Health toolkit. It recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and on-campus visitors regardless of vaccination status.
However, Cooper is leaving the choice of wearing masks to local school districts. Some counties have voted to make masks optional, while others have gone the mandatory route.
“I just think you should have an option,” said BOE at-large member Tommy Sanders. “If you feel like you need to wear a mask, wear a mask. The last thing we need to do is shut these schools down again. If you have a breakout, then you have to play accordingly.
“Another thing to look at is ADM [average daily membership]. If those numbers drop, it affects funding for the schools.”
Tiffany Kilgore, president of the Wayne County Association of Educators, said there have been positive COVID cases during summer school. She noted that over the final six weeks of school last spring, approximately 600 students were quarantined.
Those absences led to additional hybrid teaching.
Kilgore feels students should wear masks in class this fall.
“We can go by today’s statistics and numbers, and when we get into school, the [case] numbers could rise astronomically, which would require changes,” Kilgore said. “Our students need a safe and orderly environment for learning. You can’t guarantee that if you don’t have masks. It could be a free-for-all. Of course, the moment we start talking about masks, people are going to get mad and start yelling.
“I just wish they would be reasonable adults and have rational conversations. We all hoped we could start the school year like old times.”
Dr. Brenda Weis, health director for Wayne County, said there has been an uptick in reported cases since the Delta variant appeared. According to the county’s health department website, nearly 12,000 total cases have been reported since the initial virus outbreak in 2020 with 245 deaths as of Sunday.
Weis said if residents are unsure about vaccinations, she encourages them to talk with their primary care physician (PCP), ask friends who are vaccinated and research on their own.
Young people in their 20s have started to contract the Delta variant due to a high rate of transmission, meaning the virus is more contagious.
The incubation period is shorter from the time of exposure. Symptoms are comparable to a severe cold - runny nose, sore throat and upper respiratory infection. The loss of taste and smell is not common.
“We often hear the younger age group said they had COVID, so they think they don’t need a vaccine,” Weis said. “While it’s rare, reinfection can happen. This is why we recommend the vaccination for everyone, regardless of whether or not you have had the illness.
“COVID-19 will continue to mutate, just like the flu mutates every year into a new strand. Vaccination is our best weapon against this virus.”