In my remarks to the Ashe County Board of Education on Monday, Sept. 13, I urged members to acknowledge that masks — far from stopping the spread of the corona virus, which they haven’t done in our schools so far this year and in fact cannot do effectively — are actually causing some very serious health problems for our kids.

Later that evening, I was very disappointed by the board’s decision, and particularly by the lack of appreciation certain members seem to have for the true health and safety of our children beyond what they’re being told by the state to believe and to do.

As a proud citizen of Ashe County, whose three children attended Ashe County schools K-12, as a grandfather whose grandchildren may one day attend our local schools and as a person who cares deeply about the total health of our community’s children, I must say, this meeting was hard to watch, even cringeworthy at times, such as during the portion when members dragged their feet and some even complained about the difficulty of making a decision to extend or discontinue the systemwide mask mandate they’d recently voted to reinstate.

Having served on a number of executive boards, I appreciate how challenging members’ jobs can be. Might I remind board of education members, however, that this is what you signed up for? Vice Chair Dianne Eldreth at one point voiced a preference for “easy decisions.” Keith McClure thought it important to mention that he was struggling between his head and his heart while lamenting the fact that he would like for the masks to go away, apparently forgetting that he himself is one of five decision-makers in the county on this matter (and the one, as it turned out, to cast the final and deciding vote). Polly Jones, while reciting her favorite talking points, failed to acknowledge even a single relevant point made by the speakers participating in the public comment period.

During long pauses when every board member other than the chair was eligible to propose a motion, some instead buried their faces, groaned or mumbled. Members repeatedly went back to Superintendent Eisa Cox for more ideas on their possible “options.” Audience members agreed that it seemed as if board members might be hoping we’d leave before a vote was taken on the issue, an agenda item which could not be tabled.

After some uncomfortable moments, marked by “more silence” than Chairman Josh Roten said he’d ever heard from this board, interrupted only by sometimes lengthy statements or suggestions from the superintendent, the board, in the end, voted 3 to 2 to continue forcing all students and teachers to wear masks rather than recognize parental rights and respect parental autonomy to decide for themselves what their kids will or will not wear on their faces.

Thanks and congratulations to Josh Roten and Dr. Kim Simmons for voting to do the right thing. But what seems to be a lack of resolve or a shortage of confidence displayed by our elected leaders, as well as an apparent inability by some to separate themselves from decisions made in other districts or from state politics surrounding this issue, only adds to my concerns over the wellbeing of our youngest citizens, who have no choice but to depend on us to make well-reasoned, apolitical, compassionate and, yes, courageous decisions on tough issues like this one. Besides mask mandates, I also am extremely concerned about other major issues that parents, politicians, teachers and administrators are currently debating all across our nation. Having solicited them from you earlier, I remain interested in your positions — as I’m sure other constituents of yours are — on Critical Race Theory and the so-called “1619 Project.” If there are board meeting minutes, statements or formal policies regarding these consequential topics, I have been unable to find them. If there are not, there should be; Ashe County citizens deserve to know where their elected officials stand on matters of such import. Please let us hear your views.

Thank you. I look forward to seeing you and addressing the board again Oct. 4, alongside as many concerned citizens as are able to attend.

Drew Martin

Jefferson

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