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Citing Covid spike, School Board reinstates mask mandate through grade 6

After hearing about a spike in coronavirus infections last week, the Henderson County School Board on Monday reversed its mask-optional rule for students, staff and visitors in pre-K through grade 6 and will require the face coverings once again starting the Monday after Thanksgiving.

During Monday’s meeting, Superintendent John Bryant reviewed the positivity and quarantine rates for the week of Nov. 15-19. Data provided by public health officials showed that each week prior to Nov. 8 brought a decrease in positive cases and resulting quarantines but last week the numbers increased threefold and fivefold, respectively. By school level that week, there were 40 positives and 56 resulting quarantines in elementary schools, 12 positives and 60 quarantines in middle schools, and 9 positives and 24 quarantines in high schools.

The mask requirement will apply to all students, staff, and visitors in K-6 spaces during instructional hours. Effective Jan. 1, 2022, face coverings would once again become optional in pre-K through grade 6.

The board reversed its Nov. 8 decision, which had made face coverings optional in all indoor settings across all grade levels. Discussed extensively on Monday and at the Nov. 8 board meeting, this timeline would allow families who wished to have their elementary and 6th grade children receive both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine the opportunity to do so, since children ages 5-11 have only recently become eligible to receive the vaccine.

At the Nov. 8 meeting, board members had acknowledged that transitioning to a mask-optional environment would likely result in an increase in student quarantines based on vaccination status, and indicated that the board would closely track these data points throughout the week of Nov. 15-19 to determine if revisiting their decision was warranted.

Per current state guidance, there are three exceptions to quarantine: Students who are not fully vaccinated after a close contact in a classroom or other school setting if masks were being worn appropriately and consistently by both the person with COVID-19 and the potentially exposed person do NOT need to quarantine. In a face-coverings-optional setting, this means that even individuals wearing a face covering would still have to quarantine if the other person in a close contact situation was not wearing a face covering.

The School Board will vote again on face covering guidance at its regularly scheduled Dec. 13 meeting, per Senate Bill 654, which requires all North Carolina school districts to vote at least once a month about whether to maintain or amend its existing face covering policy. Today’s changes to face covering requirements will be communicated to families and updated on the district’s Return to Learn website on Tuesday.