LENOIR COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - COVID cases surge as thousands of students across Eastern North Carolina return to school this week after their winter break.
Students packed their backpacks and lunchboxes Wednesday morning and for Lenoir County students, they had the option of whether or not to also pack their mask.
The option comes after a school board meeting on Monday maintained, by a vote of 4-3, that masks be optional for students and faculty in school.
“I find a hard time understanding why this is being debated for this demographic of the population... children, and germs, and a close environment,” Hannah Perry, the mother of a third-grade student in Lenoir County Public Schools said.
Perry is pleased with the way the school system handles some aspects of its COVID precautions. “The custodial is amazing and they are amazing with their sanitation,” she said.
However, she is not so happy about other parts, like mask-wearing being optional.
As students enter the halls of schools across the district, Patrick Holmes, a spokesperson for the school system, said, “The first day of school in the new year looks a lot like the last day of school for the last year.”
He’s referring to the mask policy, in which the vote in December yielded the same optional mask-wearing result.
“The mask question is up to the board of education,” Holmes said. “That’s a policy decision that the board is going to make. They vote on it every month.”
The Lenoir County School Board isn’t the only board of education to have made this decision regarding masks. Face coverings are optional in Beaufort, Onslow, and Carteret counties’ schools. All four of these districts reaffirmed their rulings.
“We are taking a number of steps in schools,” Holmes said.
“From testing on request to the usual sanitation measures that we do, most of our students don’t eat in the cafeteria. They eat in the classroom. We keep groups as small as we can," said Holmes.
The school board has also partnered with Lenoir County Health Director Pam Brown.
“She was instrumental in working with our school board members and our district administrators in devising the current policy we have for optional face coverings,” Holmes said.
For Perry, making face coverings optional has the same ring to it as making hygiene optional.
She says if you saw someone leave the restroom without washing their hands, “you would almost want to encourage them to. I’ve encouraged my son and I bought a box of 100 masks for about $16 and it’s just such a low price to pay to keep him safe.”
As for the school district administration, they will keep an eye on the COVID numbers in the community and in their schools.
Holmes said, “I think we are doing all that we can and if the situation warrants it, we’ll adjust our practices.”
The school system administration urges parents to keep their children home if they are sick and to get them vaccinated as soon as they become eligible.
The district offers PCR testing upon request and has most of its students eat in the classroom in smaller groups to reduce outbreaks.
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