School board member Johnson appeals for looser mask rules
School board Ronald Johnson appeals for looser mask rules.
SMITHFIELD — Another month, another 4-3 vote to mandate masks in Johnston schools.
“It’s sad news,” school board member Lyn Andrews said of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “We were certainly hoping by this time after the holidays that this whole thing would be down further than it is.”
Instead, COVID-19 cases in Johnston are surging again, leaving county health officials little choice but to recommend the schools continue their mask mandate, Andrews said. “I know that is not what everybody wants to hear,” she said. “We are weary of it. We are tired of it. But I’m just not sure what else we can do to stop this number of children and staff members out of school.”
Andrews was referring to the number of students and school staff in quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19. The school board met Jan. 11; by week’s end, the schools had 1,651 students and 142 staff members in quarantine.
Andrews said the numbers would be higher without the mask mandate. “The spread is not happening in our schools so much because masks are being worn,” she said. “The spread is in the community, which comes into our schools.”
But Johnston students go out into the community every day, board member Ronald Johnston said. “Some of them are in high school,” he noted. “They leave high school, they go to the food service industry, they go to the retail industry, they go to work.”
Because of their mask mandate, the schools see themselves as a COVID-19 control group, Johnson said. But the control group gets daily exposure to people who are not following virus protocols, he said.
“We’re looking at protocols and procedures versus practicality and reality,” Johnson said. “If we’re going to ... have people doing their own thing outside of school ... and then coming back into the school system, there’s no foreseeable end of this in sight.”
Andrews is among the Johnston school leaders who met regularly with Dr. Marilyn Pearson, director of the Johnston County Public Health Department, and her staff. Johnson appealed to her.
“I’m asking when you go, see if we can modify this mask policy,” he said. “See if there’s a way we can start easing this off so maybe one day we can get back to normal.”
School board Chairman Todd Sutton said masks were doing harm. “I’ve got texts today talking about high school students don’t feel engaged,” he said. “They can’t focus on the teacher because they can’t see the teacher speaking. They’re not gaining the material knowledge that they need because they’re not seeing the teacher speak.”
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