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School Board makes masks optional

The Henderson County School Board voted 5-2 on Monday to make masks optional for students, teachers and staff this school year, pleasing the majority of parents that packed the board meeting room and implored the system to "unmask our kids."

After two hours of public comment, a presentation by staff on the back-to-school options and board deliberation, the board joined numerous counties across the state who have defied Gov. Roy Cooper's recommendation and voted to make face covering optional.

"It is the parents' choice, it is the staff members' choice from here on out," Vice Chair Amy Lynn Holt said.

Robert Bridges seconded the motion.

"I appreciated the public's input today and I wholeheartedly support and second the motion," he said.

When Kathy Revis objected to the phrase "from here on out," Holt agreed to drop the phrase.

"Whatever we decide, I hope this community and our schools and our people will all come together because  we're all here for one reason — educating and safely taking care of our kids," Dot Case said. "Whatever decision is made I hope everybody will pull together here and let's all educate our kids together."

The speakers, many of them parents and grandparents wearing black T-shirts with large all-caps letters that said "UNMASK OUR KIDS," broke into applause after Chair Blair Craven polled the board and announced the 5-2 result. Dot Case and Revis voted no.

Although the outcome handed a victory to those who made passionate anti-masking comments, board members denounced what they called bullying behavior of parents who had ripped the school system, the School Board and teachers over masking, virtual learning and other public health requirements that have changed school life since March 2020.

"We have had lots of nasty emails directed our way, phone calls, text messages — uncalled for, in my personal opinion," Board Chair Blair Craven said.

Holt went further.

"Frankly I have been totally shocked by our community here in Henderson County and by the things that have been all over social media," she said. "We wonder why we have a bullying problem in school. We have a bullying problem with parents and community members. It is OK to wear a mask. It is OK to get vaccinated. It is OK to not wear a mask and it is OK to not get vaccinated.

"It is time for this county and this state and this nation to stop tearing the other side down. Our children need to see a community (that says) it's OK that your teacher is wearing a mask. You don't know who they need to protect at home. I watched a parent on line get bullied because she asked if Henderson County public schools was going to provide virtual. We absolutely are going to provide virtual. Her son was high risk and she was beat up because she didn't want her child to come to school. I mean, give me a break. It is embarrassing the way our public acts."

Spouses of board members, she said, did not want their spouse attending Monday's board meeting because of threatening language on social media. "It is unacceptable," she said. "Our job is to educate these kids. It is not our job to get into a parenting battle with the parent on whether they need to wear a mask. It's not our job to tell parents they need to vaccinate their kids or not."

Stacey Caskey echoed Holt.

"If we could all just give each other a break," she said. "This is new for all of us. We are trying our best. We have to be in it together. We're a community, we're neighbors, we have to love our neighbors either way."