County school students will be required to wear masks on buses as the new school year starts, but face coverings will be optional indoors for students and staff.
The Columbus County Board of Education today (Thursday) approved a new COVID plan proposed by Superintendent Dr. Deanne Meadows.
Meadows said the lessons learned over the past year of lockdowns, remote learning and limited contact influenced the plans for the new school year.
A big part of the proposal included discussion about masks for students, which has become a hot topic nationwide.
“During the past year and a half we have come to clear understandings regarding masks,” Meadows wrote. “Masks help prevent the spread of COVID. Masks also impede communication between teachers and students, and can be a significant hindrance to educational progress across all grade levels.”
Gov. Roy Cooper rescinded the current executive order requiring face masks for students and staff last week. State guidelines strongly encourage, rather than require, the use of masks in schools.
The guidelines state that “all schools should require all children and staff in schools K-8th grade to wear face coverings consistently when indoors.” It also says that “all schools should ensure that face coverings are worn indoors by all individuals who are not fully vaccinated, including students grades 9th-12th, workers, teachers, guests, other adults, and children age two (2) or older unless an exception applies.’
“Based on this language it is a decision for the Board of Education as to the requirements for face coverings in our buildings,” Meadows wrote.
Principals were evenly divided on mask requirements, Meadows said. Three said it was a parent’s place to decide, while four said masks should be mandatory. Four staff members also expressed support for mandates.
Meadows also touched on remote learning. School systems scrambled to create remote and hybrid learning curricula as well as methods at the start of the pandemic, and schools smoothed out some of the bugs as the lockdowns continued through the fall terms of 2020.
“This was as successful as it could be last year,” Meadows wrote, “but it is not the best educational process for students. Therefore, when a student is quarantined this next year they will only be able to receive instruction through asynchronous learning and will not have live instruction from the teacher.”
The schools will also take advantage of a new federal program to provide COVID testing on campus, and will work with county schools to provide vaccination clinics on Saturdays. The clinics would be available for students, staff and the community to get vaccinated.