HCS votes for optional mask wearing

Of the Record staff
Posted 8/4/21

The Harnett County Schools Board of Education put the decision of whether or not to mask children back in the hands of parents.

Board members on Monday night voted to make mask wearing optional …

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HCS votes for optional mask wearing


The Harnett County Schools Board of Education put the decision of whether or not to mask children back in the hands of parents.

Board members on Monday night voted to make mask wearing optional for students once the new school year begins Aug. 23. School boards across the state took differing positions on the subject recently with some reinstituting the mask mandate seen in schools over the past year while others elected to make it an option. Harnett County opted for the latter, citing the availability of vaccines and an abundance of already vaccinated teachers and staff.

“Right around 50% of our student population can get vaccinated,” Board member Jason Lemons said. “All of our teachers have the option and all of our staff have the option. Quite honestly, a lot of our teachers have already been vaccinated. There are ample opportunities for those who wish that.”

Harnett County joined Johnston County in making mask use optional whereas Lee County went with the mandated approach. Ultimately, Lemons said, the decision came down to what role a school system should be playing when it comes to people’s children.

“It’s very simple, that’s the parent’s job,” said Lemons. “The parent’s job is to be the legal guardian of that child. Unfortunately, a lot of folks seem to think, and in some cases it may be necessary, that the school system does provide a little bit more guidance than the parents or the guardians do. But that’s not the direction we need to go. These parents need to step up, be a parent and choose what they want for their child.”

The school board held a vote on the matter early enough so that parents who disagree with the decision can make other arrangements for the upcoming year. Lemons said the school system has no intentions of mandating vaccines for students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports or band.

“Our opinion is everything goes back to normal,” Lemons said. “We know that some folks are not going to like this. We wanted to get this out in time so those parents and families, who don’t want to send their kid to the school like that, they have the option to go find other educational arenas if they wish to. We’re not going to require anyone to get vaccinated if they don’t want to be vaccinated. As of right now, we are planning on having all activities available to kids, and it’s not just sports. You do not have to get vaccinated just to take part in the wrestling program. That’s not what we’re doing. That’s not our job.”

Cherokee Champine, a Fuquay-Varina mother of a 10-year-old special needs student, disagreed with the board’s decision. Champine felt the system should’ve made mask wearing mandatory in the face of the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, and not doing so puts children, teachers and staff at risk.

“They’re not looking at what the CDC recommends and they’re not looking at what the numbers are,” Champine said. “We’re at the bottom in the state for vaccines, and they’re not looking at that. They’re just looking at getting kids back in school. I think a lot of us are saying we want masks and I’m very disappointed with what the board did.”

By making mask use optional, Champine felt some students may opt not to wear one out of peer pressure, turning classrooms into possible areas of infection.

“That’s what’s going to happen,” said Champine. “We have this highly contagious variant that is just as contagious as chicken pox. They’re going to fill these classrooms and if you’re not having masks on, you have a classroom full of Delta.”

HCS plans on following the 3-foot social distancing recommendation by the CDC, but Lemons said that shouldn’t have any impact on classroom settings, as few have more than 20 students at a time anyway. The board left open the possibility of changing direction should conditions involving the COVID-19 pandemic worsen.

“We made it open for a reason,” Lemons said. “If all of a sudden you have a major outbreak and you get that the legislature ... chooses to do that, it’s very easy to change.”

Monday night also marked the first time since the pandemic began last March that the board didn’t broadcast its monthly meeting on YouTube. Lemons said the board expressed interest in bringing the practice back once a more reliable alternative is found.

“All of us really want that to keep up,” said Lemons. “The technology we’re using right now is really just piecemeal. It’s really kind of haphazard and we’re trying to get something more sophisticated so more people can use this no matter what their platform is. We hope to make it more universal.”

The board’s vote also made mask wearing optional for teachers and staff.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.


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