Stanly County Schools to make masks optional beginning Monday

Published 3:49 pm Thursday, October 21, 2021

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During a special called school board meeting Thursday afternoon, members unanimously voted to make masks optional for students and staff beginning Monday due to the decline in the county’s COVID positivity rate.

New board chairwoman Glenda Gibson, who took over from Jeff Chance, who resigned at the end of last month’s board meeting, was the one who introduced the motion.

Stanly has a 14-day rolling average rate of 7.7 percent, according to data from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, below the 7.9 percent threshold that was identified by the board during its August meeting, when it first drafted a resolution requiring masks. After the rate spiked to around 17 percent in early September, it has gradually been decreasing.

With the decision, Stanly County will be the fourth school district in the surrounding area with a masks optional policy. The other districts include Cabarrus County, which voted to make masks optional during a meeting Monday, Lincoln County and Union County.

Students must still practice social distancing and students have to still wear masks while on the bus. The district will also continue contract tracing in classrooms and cafeterias. Also beginning Monday, free optional PCR testing will be available at all school sites for students and staff.

The board still has the ability to revert back to masks required if the positivity rate climbs past 7.9 percent.

Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis did warn that with masks becoming optional, quarantines could increase due to the reduction of protection, as they have done in other counties that have reversed course. This is because under the N.C. Strong Schools Toolkit, quarantines are required for individuals who have been in close contact (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes cumulatively over a 24-hour period) with someone who tests positive, unless everyone is wearing masks.

After seeing an initial increase in quarantines during the first few weeks of school, the numbers have been declining over the past month. The school system reported 407 quarantines last week, according to updated data from the district’s COVID-19 online dashboard, a 27 percent decrease from the previous week’s total of 560. It was the fifth consecutive week the numbers have declined.

If quarantines do spike again, it could affect the district’s ability to retain its substitute teachers. Only around 67 percent of them are currently filling vacant positions, down from around 99 percent before the pandemic.

New board member Dustin Lisk, who was recently chosen by the Stanly County Republican executive board to replace Chance, was also sworn in during the meeting and was able to vote to make masks optional.

“We did exactly what our resolution set out to do,”  Gibson said after the meeting about the decision to go forward with masks optional. She added that she was proud the school board consistently followed its original resolution, despite the outcry from many in the community that consistently opposed the mask policy.

Gibson hopes the decision to make masks optional will diffuse some of the animosity among the public that’s been evident during past meetings.

“We’ve always wanted to work together (with the community) and we sure are better when we work together than when we work apart,” Gibson said.

The next scheduled school board meeting is at 7 p.m. Nov. 2.

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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