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Facemasks like football helmets, School Board is told

The Henderson County School Board last week voted to continue requiring masks in schools after hearing parents, students, teachers and others speak for and against the public health precaution.
The board’s 6-1 vote, with Vice Chair Amy Lynn Holt voting no, kept in place the mask mandate that the board first ordered on Aug. 9, reversing its mask-optional decision from a week earlier. The crowd grew raucous at times, breaking into applause and cheering for the more passionately expressed opinions.
Jon Coulman asked School Board members to imagine a football coach in the school system they’re responsible for running.
“This coach tells his players they don’t need to wear helmets,” Coulman said. “He tells them that God gave them a skull to protect their heads and that’s all they need. Besides, their friends in the stands wouldn’t be able to see their smiles. How long would it take before you fired that coach?
“The same is true about having to wear a mask. In a time of global pandemic, this board would be committing the same gross negligence as that imagined coach. No rational person believes otherwise. And now that the FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine I would urge this board to mandate all school employees be vaccinated to protect the children in your care. To do anything less would open up this district to lawsuit over gross negligence.”
Two high school students and a middle school student came forward to strongly oppose masks. They said the masks are uncomfortable and that enforcement often involves teachers calling them out in front of their peers for wearing their face coverings improperly.
“I’ve been getting headaches every day because I have to wear a stupid mask,” Savannah Kowal, a student at Rugby Middle School, told the board. “It’s been very hard for me to breathe with masks. If I take off my mask, my headaches go away. I ended up going to the nurse’s office on the first day of school because it got so bad. I’m sad because I’m missing the school, I’m missing the education that I need. No one wants to wear masks. I want to see my teachers when they talk to me.”

Madison May said when the School Board mandated masks, she considered not returning to Hendersonville High School.

“It gives me headaches and makes my anxiety super bad,” she said. “On the second day of school … I was sent to the office after I was told I didn’t have my mask on the ‘correct way.’ My anxiety was already where it was with the mask on but after I was called out in class in front of all my peers and classmates my anxiety was ten times worse and I couldn’t get a deep breath because I wasn’t allowed to take my mask off. … Last time I checked, I come to school to get my education and not to be hounded by how to wear my mask correctly.”

Wearing a T-shirt that said “This is a fear-inducing mind control device” over the image of a facemask, Janice Parker called on the board “to restore the rights and liberties of students and their families” by dropping the mask mandate. Citing the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions, she said, “Neither of these documents allow you to violate the rights of the people on the basis of a health emergency.”

Anne Smith, a pediatrician for 20 years and the mother of two HHS graduates and one who is currently a student, thanked the board for the mask order.
“I support your wise decision at the last meeting to make masks mandatory,” she said. “As caregivers for children, we share our most important job. The delta variant is three times more transmissible than the former alpha variant, which means masks are more important now than ever. Too many times in my practice I’ve witnessed the negative effects virtual school and isolation has had on the mental and physical health of my patients. Students need schools for their development, they can’t get this development time back.”
Katy Gash, a schoolteacher, said she accompanied her husband, congressional candidate Eric Gash, to a meeting of first responders. Fire chiefs and emergency services leaders lamented “how incredibly hard it has been to maintain the morale of the men and women they lead in the face of blatant ingratitude and selfishness from many who do not understand or care to understand the depth of the duty they carry out so faithfully day in and day out,” she said, recalling a conversation with one chief. “It’s getting harder and harder to attract people into this profession, he said, because it is such a demanding and thankless job.
“They feel overwhelmed and unsupported and as I listened to the chief I couldn’t help but see myself and my fellow teachers. This can be a thankless job sometimes but Dr. Bryant — you and this board have always rallied around us,” she said, referring to schools Superintendent John Bryant.
Heather Reed, a North Henderson High School graduate and mother of a Bruce Drysdale Elementary School student, also thanked the board for the mask mandate.
“Covid remains steeply on the rise and our decision to continue requiring mask is allowing our schools to remain open," she said. “As we have seen in our neighboring counties in Polk, Mitchell, Graham, Madison and beyond, switching to mask mandates and closing schools to recover from high Covid numbers, we recognize how important it is to take very measure available to keep our kids in school. … We do not want to be in a situation where too many teachers and staff members have fallen ill to allow schools to remain open.”