By Dave Russell

 

As required by state statute, the Jackson County Board of Education voted to keep its mask policy – masks on every face in school system buildings – intact for at least another month.

North Carolina law mandates that school boards must revisit and vote on mask policy at each monthly meeting.

“I am relaxing the mask mandate for indoor athletic extracurricular activities after school, effective tomorrow,” Superintendent Dans Ayers said at the meeting Nov. 16. “Our COVID data is showing success so I am beginning to relax these restrictions. Effective tomorrow, Nov. 17, the mask requirement for indoor athletics and extracurricular events will be lifted.”

Board members are well informed about COVID-19, she said.

“Each Friday, I provide all board members with an update that includes the JCPS positivity rate, information from our local health department,” Ayers said.

“I’ve also sent them articles regarding COVID-19 protocols and things like that.”

The Jackson County Department of Public Health offers a COVID snapshot and statistics.

“We all are well versed and very much research-based, I want you to know that,” she said.

Before throwing the topic to the board for discussion, she offered some numbers and information on a series of slides projected on one end of the boardroom.

The cumulative case count for the school year beginning Aug. 10 stood at 356.

“In Jackson County Public Schools, we have one student case right now,” Ayers told the board. “Right now in the district, at least until a little while ago, we had one staff case, but now we have two staff cases,” she said. “So total right now in our district we have three cases of COVID-19. I think a lot of that has to do with protocols we have in place.”

Another slide showed 15 students and staff in quarantine at that time.

Jackson as a whole ranks as one of the counties in the high transmission category due to community spread. 

“The masks are keeping us very low,” Board Chair Ali Laird-Large said. “I do think that as we progress with giving the opportunity to these younger children to get vaccinated and then hopefully be able to loosen up on the mask ordinance.”

 

A few months away

“I think the reasons that our numbers have improved drastically are because of community spread going down, but also because of the masking,” Abigail Clayton said. “I don’t feel comfortable yet removing the masks or making them optional until students who choose to have the opportunity to get vaccinated and until we move out of that red category.”

“I agree,” Wes Jamison said. “I think we’re still a couple of months away from that.”

“I think we’re moving that way but I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet,” Elizabeth Cooper said. “I think it is too early to pull the masks.”

“I m all for continuing masks at this time,” Margaret McRae said. “It seems to be doing what we need for it to do in our school system.” 

A motion passed unanimously to keep the mandate in place.

 

Doors open to visitors

Deputy School Superintendent Jake Buchanan updated the board on some policy changes, some handed down from the state and one local change.

“Policy 5020 is visitor to school board policy,” he said. “That’s the one that we had changed at the beginning of COVID-19 to limit visitors into our schools. Dr. Ayers and I would recommend to our board that we remove this section ... and return to our traditional visitor policy.”

The board unanimously approved the change starting Nov. 29, the day schools re-open after Thanksgiving.