UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Union County’s Board of Education voted 7-2 Wednesday night to keep its optional mask policy in place.
The board, under a recommendation from the county health department, considered a mask mandate for nearly three hours Wednesday night before voting against the measure.
Board members John Kirkpatrick, District 1, and Joseph Morreale, District 5, were the only two voting in favor of the mask mandate. Kirkpatrick originally motioned for the vote saying the decision was about protecting one another, even if it caused inconvenience.
"This is going to help us to eliminate and stop this spread of COVID so that all children, from the east side to the west side, from rich or poor, it doesn’t even matter what position you’re in— that all of our babies can be in school and all of our teachers can stay in school and be effective. So we can have those great numbers at the end of the year where all of our schools are 'Grade A,'” Kirkpatrick said at one point during the meeting.
Board members seemed unable to settle on a potential end date for the mandate, if they were to implement it. Members Gary Sides and Sarah May asked Kirkpatrick to consider a set date to revisit the policy. He declined to include it in his motion, saying the board would listen to county health experts and reevaluate the mandate on their own timeline.
During the meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Jarrod McCraw repeatedly told the board the mask mandate policy was the recommendation of the county’s health department.
McCraw said Union County Public Health Director Dennis Joyner recommended the schools adopt a mask policy for all staff, students and visitors during a call earlier this week.
“His message became a lot stronger yesterday. He made it clear to me that he recommends we follow the strong schools toolkit and the guidance in the toolkit. He specifically, and I asked him specifically, ‘The face covering guidance?’ He recommends we follow the face covering guidance,” McCraw told the board members.
Many members expressed frustration, however, over the county’s recommendation coming just days before schools are set to reopen. McCraw said the late recommendation was because county health officials were hopeful the numbers would come back down before school began, but ran out of time.
Since the motion failed, Union County students will return to the classroom Monday with the ability to make their own decision on wearing a mask.
The board’s next scheduled meeting is September 7, beginning at 7:00 p.m.