Masks mandated until Oct. 4 amid resurgence COVID

Moore County students and teachers will be wearing face coverings, at least until early October, the Board of Education decided Monday in front of angry parents that believe it should be a personal choice. In a compromise, the board also voted to offer the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust only 5-acres of land and buildings that once was the Southern Pines Primary School.

The regular meeting, held at Union Pines High School to accommodate the large number that attended, was punctuated with numerous vocal outbursts from those in the auditorium. Despite pleas from Chair Libby Carter to keep order during the public address portion of the meeting, those in attendance waved signs, clapped and cheered loudly in agreement after speakers would advocate making masks optional. 

At times, boos could be heard while board members spoke. Some in the audience were warned several times to stop their outbursts by the six school police officers there to keep the peace. 

The regular rules that would normally allow only 30 minutes of time for the public to speak were suspended. Monday evening, the board allowed 90 minutes of public comment by more than 35 people that signed up to speak. An overwhelming number of people spoke against a mask mandate.

The 4-3 decision, with board members Carter, Thompson, Dennison and Caldwell in favor, came after Superintendent Bob Grimesey gave his recommendation to require face masks for students and staff in all grades while indoors and on school buses. The vote also upholds a decision by the 4A Athletic Conference for mask-wearing at all athletic events.

In making the recommendation, school officials cited Moore County Health data showing a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, particularly young people. According to the health department, Moore County has 60 active cases of COVID-19 in those 17-years old or younger. That figure has doubled from last week and is the highest since January. 

The school board could revisit the issue at its October 4 work session.

Southern Pines Primary Sale

The Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust will now have seven days to decide if they want to purchase a 5-acre parcel that once was the Southern Pines Primary School after the measure was approved by the Board of Education Monday. The offer, going back to 2020, is to sell the land and buildings for an appraised value of $300,000. The Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust wants to purchase the land to provide educational and entrepreneurial opportunities.

The move was seen by the board as a compromise measure, after a vote to sell the entire 17-acre property for $685,000 would likely not be approved by the majority.

The motion that passed, with only board member Dennison opposed, allows the land trust to purchase a 5-acre lot. The remaining land will be offered to the highest bidder in a process called Upset Bid. Should the land trust decide not to accept the board’s offer, the entire 17-acres would be sold. 

Sandhills_Sentinel~Article and photo by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

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