JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Education met in regular session on Sept. 13 to discuss the mask policy, updates and upcoming events. Boards of education are mandated to visit local mask mandates monthly.
Those in attendance were Chair Josh Roten, Vice Chair Dianne Eldreth, Dr. Kim Simmons, Polly Jones, Keith McClure, Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox and Finance Officer Amanda Coldiron.
Cox began the meeting with announcements. Vannoy Construction donated a flag pole which will be up by Sept. 17 and will commemorate the men and women who serve our country. Cox also commented on the success of the first annual Back 2 School Blast and thanked all those who were involved in planning and executing the exciting day for students.
The board then discussed the question of whether or not to implement a mask mandate or to make masks optional.
The discussion began with public comment and three community members stepping up to speak to the board.
First was Jessica Carter who expressed her concerns on masking in schools.
“As an educator myself, I understand the responsibility of the school,” said Carter. “Schools are not charged to serve as an authority on any child’s health and wellbeing, but rather just to safeguard these to the extent possible. It is my opinion that a mandate which forces all children in schools at all times to cover their mouths and noses with damp, sometimes soiled cloth is counter to its principle.”
Next up was Drew Martin, who shared the same concerns as Carter.
“I want to voice concern for the health of the children in our school system regarding your actions as a board,” said Martin. “I’d like to think that we can all agree, that unless it is absolutely necessary, covering a child’s face is wrong.”
Martin’s father, Jeff, then spoke, reiterating that their opinion on masking is that there should not be a mandate.
The board then deliberated for about two hours on both the mandate and the new option of pool testing. Pool testing would allow athletic teams to be tested on Mondays, getting their results back by Wednesday and then offering rapid testing if a positive case was found.
Many concerns were brought up regarding this including the question of how effective it could be if they are tested on Monday, then proceed to practice together, further exposing the risk of transmission. The board voted to table the option until more information is received.
Next, the decision on whether to keep the mask mandate or to make them optional was brought into play. Eldreth made the motion that they keep the mask mandate policy and plan to revisit it each month. Jones seconded the motion. They then held a singular vote. Simmons voted no, Eldreth voted yes, Roten voted no, Jones voted yes and McClure voted yes. The motion carried three to two.
The board then moved on to discussion of the adoptions of policies including Learning Thru Play, LTP contract for meal services, school nurse funding initiatives, counseling services, mental health training, ASU contract for the ACS center, beginning teacher support and more, all which were approved by the Board.
Marcia Elledge then gave an update on the Endowment Fund Golf Tournament, saying that 24 businesses and individuals from Ashe and Watauga were able to participate and or donate to the tournament.
The total net proceed was $32,408, triple the amount they were able to raise in the past. The Board gave a round of applause to Elledge and those who put in the work to produce the successful outcome.