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Community members speak out against masks, lack of in-person learning at Stanly school board meeting

Several residents voiced their concerns Tuesday night during the Board of Education meeting about the lack of in-person learning in high schools and the mask mandate.

Bryn Cribb, a sophomore at West Stanly High School, asked that the school board send high school students back to school for more in-person learning with no restrictions on social distancing and masks. Stanly County Schools is currently operating under Plan B for grades 6-12, where students only have two days of in-person learning each week.

Cribb told board members that she has felt more isolated and less connected with her friends over the past year due to spending so much time with remote learning.

“I find myself feeling very down inside for no reason, which has never happened to me before online school,” Cribb said.

“By sending everyone back to school regularly, teens including myself will be more motivated to do schoolwork, will be more connected to their peers and less likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts,” she said.

Even when in school, Cribb said social distancing and mask-wearing has made it more difficult for her to communicate with friends. She told the school board she thinks masks should not be mandatory for students because they are less susceptible to getting infected and getting seriously sick than older adults.

While there have been instances where outbreaks have occurred in schools, according to CDC data, less than 10 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States have been among children and adolescents aged 5-17 years.

She mentioned there have been no long-term studies of the effects of students wearing masks each day in school.

“No one knows how it will affect us when we are older,” she said, noting the bacteria that builds up in the masks is more harmful than the risk of contracting the coronavirus.

There have been numerous reports debunking claims that wearing masks can increase a person’s chances of developing harmful bacterial infection, though medical experts do advise people to regularly wash and clean their masks.

Removing masks would allow classmates to better connect with each other, Cribb said, which would help lower anxiety among young people.

Lynn Shimpock, Cribb’s grandmother, said many surrounding school districts, including Cabarrus, Rowan-Salisbury and Union, are operating under Plan A, where high school students have in-person instruction at least four days a week.

She questioned why the School Board has not made a similar decision allowing middle and high school students more in-person learning.

“We’ve waited for you to act on behalf of our students in good faith and it just doesn’t appear that that’s happened as far as in-person learning that our children could have received in school,” she said.

As a former teacher, Shimpock mentioned the importance of educators being able to see student’s faces, as a way to detect if they’re struggling or not doing well.

“There’s something really important about seeing a child’s face,” she said. “You can tell so much by that.”

Citing several sources, including Foundation for Economic Education, Shimpock noted there’s been an increase in the state in teen suicide, depression and drug overdoses as a result of the pandemic.

A North Carolina Health News article published in March noted that while the number of child emergency room visits for mental health crises did increase last year, the state lacks data for deaths by suicide in young people in 2020. But the article reported that children hospitalized for self-harm injuries, including suicide attempts, was down last year, according to state data.

Shimpock’s sister Candy Burris said people shouldn’t put their trust in wearing masks but instead should trust in God’s protection. By wearing masks, “we’re hiding the true identity of who we are and we are instilling a fear in our children and teenagers that is extremely damaging and will be long-term.”

She questioned why high school athletes have to wear masks while NBA players and college athletes compete without them. (Collegiate and professional athletes are tested several times a week and have to quarantine if they test positive.)

While she doesn’t like seeing students in general wearing masks, Burris said it’s specifically a “travesty” seeing the younger kids masked up.

“God doesn’t like this,” she said. “He’s upset with how we’ve handled things.”

Towards the end of the meeting, Stanly County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis said the school system is bound by state law to follow all proper COVID-19 guidance. This means schools have to follow the toolkit North Carolina leaders created for schools, which does require masks and social distancing.

“This is not a Stanly County Schools thing,” he told The Stanly News & Press after the meeting. “Every local education agency in North Carolina has to abide by these things.”

He told the residents that if they still had concerns, they could speak with their elected state officials “because they are the ones that would have to change the orders for us to go mask-less.”

Once the state allowed districts, like Cabarrus and Union, to reopen schools under Plan A, which took effect in April, “there were just too many logistical concerns to overcome to bring kids back in high school and middle school for such a brief period of time,” Dennis said.

Stanly County Schools has been one of the only districts in the region that has allowed some form of in-person learning since the beginning of the school year, Dennis said. In order to have more days of in-person learning, SCS would have had to hire additional personnel including teachers and bus drivers, and all the fifth grade students and teachers would have had to move back to the elementary schools.

“The other systems didn’t have to do that because they never went to school like we did,” Dennis said about school districts that transitioned from remote learning to operating under Plan A. “They essentially went back to the same classrooms they left when they left last March over a year ago.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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