School masks should stay at for now recommends health officials education staff

Indoor masking should continue next month, school leaders said Oct. 4 at a specially called meeting of the Moore County Board of Education. Even as new student infections have dropped, COVID-19 community transmission in Moore County and the percent positivity remains high, according to the Moore County Health Department.

“It is the recommendation of the Moore County Health Department that a transition to optional masking and/or reduced quarantine periods to Moore County Schools not be considered until school transmission metrics have been significantly reduced,” said Moore County Health Director Robert Wittmann in a letter presented to the Board of Education.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services recommends all students and staff wear face covers while at school, but local school boards can set their own masking rules. School boards are required to vote each month on a mask policy. 

Since the meeting Monday was a work session, no votes were taken. That will happen at their regular business meeting on Oct. 12. 

Masking policy has become a heated topic with demonstrations outside school board meetings and impassioned public addresses in favor of lifting the mandate. At the Sept. meeting, the school board voted 4-3 to continue the requirement for indoor masking. Voting in favor were Carter, Thompson, Dennison and Caldwell leaving Levy, Hensley and Holmes opposed.

Despite loud voices from anti-vaccinators, those that say masks don’t work and some that think they should be optional, a slim majority of the Moore County Board of Education has continued to favor a mask mandate. Preferring it to the return to distance, at-home learning model used last school year.

Sale of Surplus Schools

The sale of two former schools, Southern Pines Primary and Aberdeen Elementary continues to inch forward, after years of discussion, negotiations and legal opinions. Some on the board are in favor of turning the now-abandoned, aging buildings into high school satellite campuses to alleviate overcrowding at Pinecrest High School. Others would prefer to “get out of the real estate business” and sell them for fair market value. 

Negotiations with the Town of Aberdeen center around the terms and conditions to buy the former elementary school along Highway 1 for $900,000. Also being considered is a contract to sell the old Southern Pines Primary School to the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust for $685,000.

Renaming Southern Pines Elementary

Board member David Hensley proposed to change the name of Southern Pines Elementary School. If the measure wins approval, the school will be named Master Sergeant John Chapman Elementary School. 

Chapman was awarded the Medal of Honor for “extraordinary heroism in military operation against an armed enemy” in 2018, 14 years after his combat death in Afghanistan. He was stationed at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, and his widow now lives in Moore County.

The possibility of renaming the school for another Medal of Honor recipient with ties to Moore County was also discussed. “I would suspect that (the name) would change based upon other people that we might name schools after and where they actually lived,” said Hensley.

Alternative Meeting Location

The board decided to keep their meetings at the central office, and not occasionally in school auditoriums, as has been the recent practice.

“Because of recent threats and the investigation going on, I do not feel comfortable going to an alternate location,” said board member Stacey Caldwell. “I want to get there, but as soon as this investigation is over, maybe we can do something like that.” 

Last month, it was reported that a person left a phone message threatening school board members. The confidential matter is now under investigation by Moore County Schools Police, the Moore County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation.

“I consider the person that left the message a terrorist,” said board member Robert Levy. “When we say we will not take our school board meeting out to a school in North Moore, or in Carthage, or in Vass, or wherever, we have given the power to that person that made that phone call, and we have given her that power to decide for us what we do.”

The motion to move future meetings at alternate sites failed on a 3-4 voice vote. In favor were Levy, Hensley and Holmes. Carter, Thompson, Dennison and Caldwell opposed.

To watch a video of the Moore County Board of Education Oct. 4 meeting on the school’s YouTube channel, please click here.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

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