ASHE — The Ashe County Board of Education held a special meeting via Zoom on Tuesday, Nov. 23 to discuss masks and timelines, which ultimately led to the board keeping the mask mandate in elementary schools until after Christmas break.
The meeting was attended by Chair Josh Roten, Vice Chair Dianne Eldreth, Dr. Kim Simmons, Polly Jones, Keith McClure and Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox.
The Board began by approving the agenda, which included the discussion of the mask policy and the timeline which was then to have elementary schools adopt optional masks on Nov. 29.
Cox offered new information to the board and stated that as of Nov. 23, seven students had tested positive for COVID-19, 29 were in quarantine and 20 were participating in the Test to Stay program.
“Through the approval of NCDHHS, we are able to do the Test to Stay in a mask optional environment beginning on Nov. 29,” said Cox. This was not offered earlier as those schools participating in the study were required to have a mask mandate.
Eldreth then commented on the quarantine times the school system has faced due to the optional mask mandate. She said she wishes that the Test to Stay option will allow more students to be in school and learn face-to-face.
Simmons then raised the question on how many elementary students had been vaccinated.
“I don’t have an exact percentage, but we had 127 elementary students that were vaccinated on the day that we provided the vaccination clinic,” Cox said. “We don’t currently require students or families to report their vaccination status, so therefore we don’t have a full picture of how many have gotten vaccinated, but we do have 127 on that particular day. We had 26 at Blue Ridge, 40 at Mountain View and 61 at Westwood.”
Cox also said that the policies of neighboring counties are different that the ones in Ashe. Alleghany, Wilkes and Watauga are all participating in a mask required mandate.
“Twenty-seven counties are optional and then the greater part of North Carolina is requiring masks,” said Jones. “The Ashe Post & Times stated that our rate had gone from 21 to 37 since Nov. 12 and four people have died in the last week.”
“I’ve heard from a lot of parents and a lot of community members,” said McClure. “One that struck home was from a grandmother who had lost a family member. She is hoping that we will look at the start date for the elementary schools to have mask optional. She would look for her grandchildren to be fully vaccinated before mask optional. I do think we need to respect those families whose children are not fully vaccinated and I would like for us to look at the start date for the elementary in possibly waiting until the children who are vaccinated to have mask optional.”
Eldreth agreed with McClure and she said that there are people on both sides of the argument. She said she has had a lot of community interest in continuing the mask mandate for elementary until after Christmas break.
“We’re already looking at more quarantines per student if one student is affected and is sent without a mask,” said Eldreth in response to small group work in schools. “It’s the number of quarantines that bother me and we have no control over that.”
McClure then made a motion to extend the elementary mask mandate until after Christmas and then make masks optional on the first day back to school on Jan. 5. Eldreth seconded the vote and the board then voted individually.
The vote carried 4-1 with Roten the sole no vote.
This policy will be revisited on Dec. 6 at the next Board of Education regular session meeting.