Once again, the Lincoln County Board of Education voted four to three to keep face coverings optional in school. Board members Joan Avery, Myra Heavner and Todd Wulfhorst voting against the decision to make masks optional. Face coverings will remain required on buses. It was a full house at this meeting with numerous parents, some of them doctors including a psychologist, students and educators, most of those speaking were in favor of requiring masks. Because so many people signed up to speak, each individual was only given a minute and 30 seconds to speak so many individuals were cut off before they finished speaking. 

When Director of Accountability Rusty Saine finished his presentation on positive COVID numbers, Board Member D. Todd Wulfhorst asked what his recommendation was.

“My recommendation is, based off the toolkit, if two students wear masks and two adults wear masks, we don’t have to send as many people home if they’re positive,” he said. 

Board Member Heather Rhyne thanked Saine for his “brave” recommendation, then called the recommendations contained in the NC Strong Schools Toolkit a “backhanded way to make students mask up.”

“I don’t like wearing a mask, but I’m vaccinated,” Board Member Myra Heavner said. “To me, this is more than masks, it’s about one reason our kids are in school. It’s to respect authority and to obey rules. We’ve heard from a lot of people tonight, but we didn’t hear from the teacher who’s in a classroom with 29 kids that don’t have the option to get a vaccine. What do you do for the over 2,000 employees that are seeing our leadership team working in the cafeteria? We’re seeing our teachers having to substitute. We can’t get substitutes in schools. We’re having trouble getting bus drivers. We don’t have teachers getting up to speak because it is political. I think we need to listen to our medical community.”

She then made the motion that masks be mandatory until COVID numbers come to a more normal number. Board Chairperson Mark Mullen asked Heavner what she thought normal numbers would be.

“I’m not a doctor and I still see the rate is moderate to high,” she said. “The local doctors that we hear from say that we should wear masks. I’d say until Mr. Madden comes back, or the numbers come down.”

Wulfhorst then asked Saine if in his opinion there’d be more substitute teachers available if masks were made mandatory. 

“Currently we are struggling with getting substitute teachers,” Saine said. “I don’t know if I can give you a yes or no answer on that.”

Board Member Christina Sutton brought to the board’s attention that all employers were having problems getting employees. She then asked the meeting attendees that if they loved kids, to come and teach.

Rhyne said that she was concerned about the mental health of students, saying that it wasn’t just about the masks. 

“We’re telling children that they’re not kind or love their neighbor if they don’t wear a mask,” she said. “If that’s what you want to tell your child, that’s fine because you’re their parent. But don’t tell my child or another child that they’re not kind because they don’t have a mask on. It breaks my heart that we’re judging children by what’s on their face.”

Heavner commented that from what she’s heard from parents, teachers, and students, that the mask wasn’t a problem, it was the parents’ problem and that students have been bullied because they wear a mask.

“But shaming’s not okay,” Rhyne injected. “We have policy about bullying.”

Mullen broke off the discussion and called for a roll call vote. After it was taken, the cheers and jeers broke out from the crowd and Heavner asked for a five-minute recess. The board will vote on this matter again in November.

In other business, the board voted unanimously to revise Policy 2310, Public Participation at Board Meetings to remove the word “citizens” and change it to “members of the public” and to limit the amount of time each individual has to speak to three minutes. They also added the text, “During the public comment period, the board chair will recognize speakers in the order in which they signed up to speak, except the chair will recognize residents of Lincoln County and parents and guardians of Lincoln County students prior to recognizing other speakers. Substitute speakers will not be permitted and speakers may not donate any portion of their time to another speaker. If a speaker is unable to present all information within the specified time limit, the speaker may provide the board with additional information in written form. If an unusually large number of people request to speak, a majority of the board may decide to reduce the time for each individual or to require the designation of a spokesperson for each group of persons supporting or opposing the same positions. At any time, the board may establish additional procedures to ensure that public comment sessions proceed in an efficient and orderly manner.”

Those interested in speaking must sign up at least seven working days prior to the meeting. 

G.E. Massey Principal Kelly Withrow was recognized as Principal of the Year and North Lincoln High School and West Lincoln High School were recognized as being ejection free schools for 2020-2021. This is an award given for the number of ejections for fighting, taunting, profanity, obscene gestures or disrespectfully addressing or contacting officials.

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