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WCPSS Board of Education Confirms Transition to ‘Mask-Recommended’ Policy
The WCPSS school board moved to remove masks requirements from schools in early March, leading to both praise and criticism from the community.
February 25, 2022
March 13, 2020 marked the beginning of a new era for schools all around Wake County. With sports conferences being postponed, extracurricular activities being canceled, and students being sent home for what was originally supposed to be two weeks, this unprecedented period of time certainly created a shift in many students’ and teachers’ lives. Almost two years later, on February 22, 2022, a pivotal decision was made regarding the enforcement of masks in Wake County schools.
After 90-minutes of discussion and consideration of multiple amendments, a 7-1 vote by the Wake County Board of Education held that the mask mandate will be lifted for athletics immediately, on February 25th for extracurricular events, and on March 7 in all educational settings.
However, this decision did not come with much ease. At the Tuesday meeting, the Green Hope Falcon interviewed several Board of Education members for their insight on this controversial topic. One member, Dr. Jim Martin, was the sole voter against the motion, expressing great concern for the liabilities that could result from moving to a mask-optional policy.
“One of my concerns about this motion is that all of these statements are based on dates and not metrics,” stated Dr. Martin in his testimony. “Anyone making a decision based on dates and not metrics is making a political decision,” he added.
Don’t listen to me, listen to what’s happening around the world.”
— Dr. Jim Martin, School Board Member
Similar to Dr. Martin, many Green Hope students and faculty members have been vocal about the consequences that could result from this decision, citing the rising cases resulting from the recently introduced COVID variants.
“I understand the argument that we need to adjust to the virus and these precautions must be temporary, but I still think that there are risks that will cause damage in the future,” stated Green Hope senior Caroline DeMaayer. “I think the number one priority should be to get vaccinated to protect the most people and move forward,” she added.
Ms. Kimberly Mackey, the NC Association of Educators Representative and Civics & Economics teacher at Green Hope, shared a similar take on the lifting of the mandate by empathizing with the various viewpoints held by people.
“Moving out of the pandemic will certainly give us all something to smile about, but I recognize that people are in different places for how we define its end,” she stated. “Students with concerns should self-advocate with their teachers to ensure we preserve environments where all students feel welcome and respected,” she added.
This idea of a welcoming and respectful environment served as a point of contention that was discussed by the board, understanding the potential for bullying and harassment that may come with a student’s decision to wear a mask or not.
In response to this concern, District 9 board member Karen Carter emphasized the importance of an inclusive environment throughout all WCPSS schools. “Our teachers, educators, and school staff are going to reiterate and model that,” Ms. Carter stated. “In my opinion, there has been a transformation in Wake County Public School itself through the opening of topics that are okay now, and how you all are able to respect each other for different decisions that you make,” she added.
I believe our educators, school staff, and our students are awesome and get through this and continue to support each other.”
— Karen Carter, School Board Member
Although many students and staff members have expressed some form of hesitancy toward the decision, a large group of these same individuals has also expressed how this decision was long overdue.
“March 7th is when it is being recommended, meaning it’ll be encouraged but not required. My response is that I wish it happened today…” stated Mr. Gregory O’Brien, a Speech II/English I teacher at Green Hope.
As a Speech teacher, Mr. O’Brien expanded on how his role as an educator in this particular elective is constantly impacted by the current WCPSS mask mandate.
“Teaching without a mask on will bring me back to some sense of normalcy…Some students have to see my facial expressions when we interact in the classroom, and to me, the masks are a hindrance. Once the masks come off, as a teacher, I’ll be refreshed,” he added.
It is time to take these masks off.”
— Mr. Gregory O'Brien, Speech II Teacher
Just like Mr. O’Brien, one of the top priorities for the WCPSS Board of Education members is to return to some sense of normalcy given that it has been two years since the beginning of the pandemic.
State Mask Mandate Lifted: A Desire to See the Same in Schools
Gov. Roy Cooper’s updated mask recommendations in accordance with metrics from the NCDHHS were repeatedly referenced throughout the Board’s meeting.
As of February 17th, 2022, the Governor suggested that local governments and school counties remove their current mask mandates, given the current decline of COVID-19 infection rates and the wide accessibility to the COVID-19 vaccine within the state. On the same day, the NCDHHS had reported 5,583 COVID-19 cases, a significant decline from the state’s current 2022 peak on January 27th, which was 28,753 cases.
School Board Chairwoman Lindsay Mahaffey noted, “We have been very careful to follow public health guidance. On Thursday, we heard from DHHS that there would be changes.”
Ms. Roxie Cash, another board member, vocalized her views on the mask mandate being lifted as of Tuesday evening with reference to the actions of the entire county.
“The Wake County government has lifted it [the mask mandate] as of Feb. 25th at 5 pm. To mask students in a school while they go to any other place in the county without a mask is not stopping the spread,” included Ms. Cash. “I believe that in school masking should reflect the other areas of where a student goes if controlling spread is the purpose of wearing a mask,” she added.
Many Green Hope students agree with Ms. Cash and believe that since there are already portions of the day when students aren’t wearing their masks, such as lunch, it is ultimately pointless to continue having the mandate.
“Nobody wears the mask properly anyway. People wear it below their noses, and during lunch, people have their masks off while interacting with other people,” noted Madelyn Kouroupas, a freshman at Green Hope.
Cailan Roy, another freshman at Green Hope, added that “By now, the majority of people at Green Hope are vaccinated. I think it’s safer with everyone being vaccinated, and I like how it is optional for students to wear a mask now. No one is forced not to wear one, but by giving people the option, everyone can choose what makes them most comfortable.”
While many individual conversations regarding whether masks should or should not be required remain up in the air, the Board of Education, Green Hope staff, and students agree that this was a major and necessary decision.
“The strong feelings surrounding decisions like masking are also a reminder of the significance of civic engagement since our elected leaders are ultimately tasked with decisions that affect us in this situation and many others,” stated Ms. Mackey.
Ms. Carter emphasized that parent, staff, and student input were taken into high consideration while making the decision, given the magnitude of its impacts.
For many, the significance of the mask-optional policy is that each student and staff member can do what makes them most comfortable and feel the safest. Similar to Cailan’s perspective, Ms. Carter stressed that, “It is ultimately up to Wake County families to make the decision that they feel is best for them.”