New Hanover County School Board votes to extend mask mandate, directs staff to survey teacher morale
It was another contentious New Hanover school board meeting Tuesday October 5, with an angry crowd outside protesting the mandate requiring masks in schools.
Sheriff’s deputies stationed outside were able to keep the protestors at bay, but their chants of “Let me in, let me in” forced board chair Stephanie Adams to take a break in the proceedings.
“Wait,hold on, Let’s take a quick recess until this calms down out here please. We’ll take five minutes," Adams said.
After a 90-minute closed session to discuss legal issues, the board introduced Greensboro attorney Rick Sharpless via Zoom. Sharpless has been retained to represent the board in its dispute with Liberty Mutual, the insurance company covering the board’s liability in the ongoing sexual molestation lawsuits. The company claims the coverage it provides is far more limited than the New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) district claims — that's a separate, but related, issue from the dispute between attorneys representing victims and alleged victims and the district over how much compensation might be paid out in a settlement, if the civil case doesn't go to trial.
The board’s liability coverage includes payments to their previously retained law firm, Tharrington Smith. That poses a conflict of interest. Tharrington Smith can’t be paid by Liberty Mutual and, at the same time, represent the school board in their ongoing dispute. That responsibility will fall to Sharpless.
Following the discussion of legal matters, the board heard an hour-long litany of concerns from parents, and both current and former teachers. The dominant concerns were masks, the suspension of early elementary students, and teacher morale.
Ultimately the board voted to extend the mask mandate for students for another month. Judy Justice praised the board’s efforts.
“I think we’ve been successful up to now… So I’m glad to see even though we revisit this every month, that we’re still thinking thoughtfully about doing the right thing, number 1 by our kids," she said.
The board also discussed the effects of the pandemic on teachers and on teacher retention. The board asked staff to conduct a “climate survey” to measure teachers’ attitudes and job satisfaction. The results of the survey will be presented at next month’s meeting.