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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

All New Hanover County school board members agree, masks required for K-12 students

For the time being, all NHCS students will be required to wear face coverings.

At Tuesday's New Hanover County School Board meeting, members decided unanimously to require face coverings for all K-12 students until under further notice.

Before the official vote, all of the board members gave a brief reason for supporting the mask policy. Board Chair Stefanie Adams started by saying, it was a simple decision to require masks because of a specific piece of advice from the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit,

“If a Covid case happens in a classroom, the children are masked, there is no quarantine requirement for the children who are exposed, which keeps kids in the classroom, with the exception of the Covid case. Without masks, kids may be home,” said Adams.

Quarantines were a major issue for schools around the region during the previous school year, and avoiding the disruptions they cause to education was a concern for the board.

The issue of masking remains politicized and divisive nationwide and here in New Hanover County.

On Monday, Port City Daily reported two opposing groups met outside the Board of Education meeting to protest for and against mandatory mask-wearing — both groups also sent hundreds of emails to the school board and administration.

Board Members Stephanie Kraybill, Pete Wildeboer, and Hugh McManus said that they were proponents of parents choosing whether their children would wear masks, but in the last week, they said they’ve changed their minds because of the contagiousness of the Delta variant.

Tracking Covid in schools

Later this month, traditional-calendar students go back to class (year-round and Summer Ignite students are already there) — which for some parents will mean concerns about where new Covid cases have appeared.

Up until mid-June, the district maintained aCovid-19 Case Dashboard, which gave school-specific numbers of cases. However, Joshua Smith, chief communications officer for the district, sent an email to WHQR on Tuesday evening that said, for the upcoming school year, the district is no longer going to update its dashboard. The public will now have to rely solely on the data provided by the county Public Health Department.

Smith also said communicating with families and staff regarding COVID exposures will be on an “individual basis, but will not be sent as an overall email to school families or staff.”

Smith said this change stemmed from new guidance from the Strong Schools Toolkit, "Localities should monitor community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing, and occurrence of outbreaks to guide decisions on the level of layered prevention strategies.” He added, "A district-level COVID dashboard does not provide this data and is therefore not recommended or required to maintain."

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR