HAMLET — Despite some parental protestations, the Richmond County Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously voted to keep its mask mandate in place.
Under a law signed Aug. 30 by Gov. Roy Cooper, public schools in North Carolina are required to vote on masking policies monthly.
The policy approved by the board — which applies to students, staff and visitors — includes criteria for exemptions, what types of face coverings are allowed and consequences for non-compliance.
Everyone must wear a face covering while inside district-owned buildings.
Dr. Wendy Jordan, director of student services, said 87 of the state’s districts — about 75% — have mask mandates.
Interim Health Director Cheryl Speight told the board that while there is currently no statewide mask mandate, facial coverings are strongly recommended.
Jordan, who frequently updates the district’s COVID tracker said that 99 students have tested positive so far this school year —10 more than what the RO reported earlier in the day.
(By 8:30 p.m., the tracker had been clean-slated for Wednesday’s numbers, so the RO was unable to see at what schools the additional cases were.)
There have also been 13 cases among staff members — two in Central Services and 11 at the schools.
According to Speight, 99% of recent cases in North Carolina have been of the delta variant.
Parent Tracy Lyerly and her family stood outside the Central Services office during the school board meeting holding signs to protest the mandate.
“If you feel that makes you safer, you feel that’s what you need to do, by all means, do it,” she said. “But don’t force it upon everybody. I think that’s wrong.
“I think that mandating children to wear a mask seven hours a day, five days a week is child abuse.”
Lyerly said some children have asthma and other issues that make it harder to breathe with a mask. She said the oxygen needs to reach their brains, “not breathing their own CO2 (carbon dioxide).”
Lyerly said her youngest child was pulled out of public school “because of this mess,” and the child is now enrolled at Second Baptist Christian Academy.
She said masking of minors should be a parent’s choice, not the government’s. And older children in high school and college should be allowed to make their own decisions.
Dylan Locklear, a junior at Richmond Senior, said he was sent home the second day of classes because his mask had fallen under his nose —although he had tried to pull it back up.
Hailie Lyerly said the college is a little more lenient when it comes to enforcement.
“Everyone has a choice to do what they want with their body,” she said.
Tracy Lylerly had planned to speak at the meeting, but couldn’t — per the school board’s public comment policy — because she wasn’t on the agenda.
The family is also against mandatory vaccinations.
The school system and the Health Department are teaming up for a vaccine clinic from 9-11 a.m. Saturday at the high school gym.
Students were supposed to have notified coaches or the school nurse by Tuesday to sign up.
A parent or guardian must also be present to give permission, but will not be necessary for the second shot on Oct. 2.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only one authorized for children 12-17. Students 18 or older must go to the Health Department to get the Moderna vaccine.
According to Speight, 16 % of the county’s 12-17-year-olds are fully vaccinated.
The school board also received a clean audit report from CPA Dale Smith of Anderson Smith & Wike.
Smith said the district was able to use federal COVID-19 relief grant funds to help cover operational costs, which led to an increase in the fund balance — something he said several other school districts have seen.
Despite decreased revenues on the Child Nutrition balance sheet, Smith said the program is “still in very good financial condition.”
Smith also said it appears the bookkeepers and finance department “have done a very good job.”
“There’s a lot of different ways to manage that money, things you can do to maximize those dollars, and they do a great job of that,” Smith said. “Y’all have a very well-managed district. We go to a lot of districts, we don’t see many that are run as well as this one.”
The report still has to be approved by the Local Government Commission, Smith said.
The Richmond County Schools Transportation Department was honored Tuesday for having the best school bus inspection score in the Central Region, which includes 33 counties.
Dr. Julian Carter, associate superintendent for human resources, said Inspections include checks of the buses’ brakes, gauges, tires, engine, seats, emergency equipment, suspension, steering, batteries and buzzers — and other parts.
The average score for the region last year was 36.5. This year, RCS’ score was 14. The lower score means fewer defects were found during the inspections, which are conducted every 30 days.
The board also approved:
This year’s local testing program
- A budget resolution
- Contracts with DRIVE Education System for Ashley Chapel Education Center and a consulting group for the Exceptional Children Department.
- Two modified construction policies allowing the superintendent or a designee to
- approve change orders up to $100,000 (previously $10,000) as long as funding is available
- Enter construction or repair contracts up to $100,000 (previously $30,000)
- Solicitation of bids for chiller replacements at Fairview Heights, RSHS and West Rockingham Elementary (using federal Education Stabilization funds)