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School Board continues mask mandate

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaks to the School Board to oppose a mask mandate. U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn speaks to the School Board to oppose a mask mandate.

Fifty people, including U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, showed up to speak in person to the Henderson County School Board Monday on two emotional topics: the school mask mandate and the campaign to name the renovated Hendersonville High School for Thomas E. "Tom" Orr, the longtime theater teacher, senior play director and promoter of the community and its history.

The overwhelming number of speakers prompted School Board Chair Blair Craven to announce that the time allotted to each speaker would be cut to one minute from three.

In addition to the 50 speakers who packed the School Board auditorium and overflowed into the yard outside, 72 people made comments on line. Of those, Craven said, 42 wanted the School Board to keep the mask mandate, two wanted the mandate dropped, 19 supported naming the auditorium for Orr, one wanted the schools to go all virtual, one wanted the schools to mandate vaccines and one wanted the schools to close.

Later in the meeting, the board decided to delay acting on the Orr auditorium request.

School mask mandate


In the end, the School Board voted 6-1, with Amy Lynn Holt voting no, to continue the mask mandate.

By law, the School Board is required to vote on the mask mandate at least once a month. Schools Superintendent John Bryant updated the board on the Return to Learn strategies in the school system. For the week ending Sept. 3, schools reported 147 positive Covid cases among students, teachers and staff, resulting in 237 quarantines; for the week ending on Sept. 10, there were 164 positive cases and 181 quarantines. Among the "very real challenges" now are shortages of bus drivers, support personnel and substitute teachers, Bryant said.

In the public comment period, speakers in often emotional remarks pleaded with the board to continue the mask mandate or to drop it.

Eric Gash, who is running for the Democratic nomination for the 11th Congressional District election, was first to speak. Cawthorn had "spread misinformation" about Covid-19 "and now he wants to come tell us how to take care of our kids and I don't think so," said Gash, who is currently on leave as principal of Bruce Drysdale Elementary School while he is running for Congress.

Aaron Fishler, a respiratory therapist at Mission HCA in Asheville, said the patient load is overwhelming health care providers.

"It has not been getting better. Our pediatric ICU is now half full of Covid patients and all of our adult ICUs are full to the brim. We are tired and I am asking you guys to continue with the mask mandate."

Anne Smith, a pediatrician and the mother of two HHS graduates and one current student and wife of HHS teacher Jerry Smith, thanked the board for ordering masks.

"The delta is three times more transmissable than the previous alpha variant, which means masks are more important now than ever," she said.  As a physician, she had seen the harm done by virtual school studnets nd s for their dev they can't get this development time back. thank yuo for keeping masks in our schools.

Two high school students complained that they had been called out in front of their classmates for not wearing their masks properly and one from Rugby Middle School said she had been getting headaches every day from wearing a mask.

Mary Beth Johnson publicly resigned from her job with the school system.

"Over the past 18 months policy changes and board mandates have infringed upon my rights and impeded my ability to follow my moral obligation," she said, reading from her resignation letter. "Decisions made at this board level and adopted by HCPS administrative offices have made it impossible for me to feel good and comfortable working for the school system any longer. The reckless way the school system has held my job for ransom by attempting to take my basic liberties is unacceptable, unforgivable and downright unconstitutional."

Cawthorn misrepresents local mask mandate vote

As he has done on several occasions previously, Cawthorn injected himself into the mask mandate debate among local school boards in the 11th Congressional District.

"Tyrants thrive when freedom is sacrificed on the altar of safety," he said. "I believe that King George III would be immensely proud of Gov. Roy Cooper. He's running the state with an iron fist, liberty be dammed. He has ripped away your power and your will."

The School Board voted on Aug. 2 to make masks optional then voted a week later to reverse the decision. Under current state law, all School Boards have the authority to make masks optional or require them yet Cawthorn falsely declared that Cooper, not the School Board, had reversed Henderson County's decision.

"This School Board did the right thing by voting to stop Roy Cooper's mask mandate," he said. "But our tyrant governor decided he was going to trample on this board's decision, flex his political muscle and run roughshod over the will of our local government — all of you sitting here."