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As Covid cases decline, School Board drops mask mandate

After hearing about a steady decline in coronavirus cases, Henderson County School Board voted on Monday to make masks in schools optional.

The board voted unanimously during its regular meeting to change the current mask requirement to optional after Superintendent John Bryant reported that trends and data show Covid case counts in the community much lower than they were in January.
“As of Feb. 11, we are seeing sharp and steady declines across our community, across the state and certainly across the country,” he said. Bryant recommended that the board make masks optional in the county schools immediately. Bryant also told the board the state last week made significant changes to its toolkit for giving schools guidance on Covid.
The new update to the toolkit now says asymptomatic students are no longer required to be quarantined after they are exposed to Covid, Bryant said.
“Individual contact tracing and exclusion from school of asymptomatic people after an identified exposure (regardless of location of exposure) is no longer required or recommended statewide in K-12 schools,” according to a slide Bryant showed to the board.
The change was huge, he said.
“This board spent a great deal of time talking about the concerns related to the number of students who would be potentially quarantined or were quarantined and the interruptions to their educational access, especially when the core focus was the preservation of face-to-face learning opportunities,” he said.
When a Covid case is identified in a school, the guidance to notify people potentially exposed to the virus remains.
Based on that guidance, the school system has decided to change its notification procedures, Bryant said.
Daily notifications of Covid cases in schools will be made on the school system’s dashboard. But beginning Friday, weekly alert call notifications will be made by schools to report Covid cases in each school.
“This is a weekly alert call that will come from your school based on cases at that time,” Bryant said.
After Bryant’s presentation, Board member Jay Egolf said he wished the state had recommended changes earlier.
“It just almost gets me that we’ve been quarantining people for two years and these are the same numbers that we’ve had for two years and now we’re saying we don’t have to quarantine. It’s just a shame we’ve been sending people home for two years and not getting a good education,” he said to applause from many in the audience.
After the board voted to make masks optional immediately, Craven asked Bryant to speak with Henderson County’s health department director Steve Smith about quarantining guidelines and the School Board’s desire to not have any asymptomatic kids quarantined beginning this week.
The board allowed for public comment after voting to make masks optional.
Many thanked the board for its vote and asked it to keep the policy in place in coming months. Others thanked the board for the mask vote but expressed concerns about bullying and the possible teaching of critical race theory.
A few others thanked the board for its work trying to make good decisions based on what is best for students throughout the pandemic.
Vance McCraw, a candidate for the School Board, asked that the board allow several other speakers to yield their time to him to make comments about the school system’s Covid policies.
The board held McCraw to the one minute allowed for each speaker, saying speakers were not allowed to yield time at school board meetings.
McCraw mentioned the state’s toolkit saying the local health department had signed a contract with the state health department.
“Until the contract is broken, any guidance that continues to flow down is gonna be expected to be in compliance with. You guys are going to be forced right back into compliance with that guidance,” McCraw said. He then asked the board to consider information he had provided.
Many in the audience left the meeting after the mask vote and public comment time.