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Lincoln Herald | Lincolnton, NC

home : news : education January 23, 2022

9/30/2021 5:34:00 PM
Masks Optional Policy Will Continue

Wayne Howard

Lincoln County Schools 'masks optional' policy can continue after Superior Court Judge James Morgan of Shelby denied a request for a temporary restraining order Thursday.

The decision was the next step in a lawsuit that was filed Monday (Sept. 27th) on behalf of families of 13 students ages 5-14. Those students are in individual learning plans, and their names have been kept secret for fear of backlash for taking a stand.

Judge Morgan's decision was only on the request for a TRO. The lawsuit itself is still pending in Lincoln County Superior Court.

Despite hearing from Lincoln County Health Director Davin Madden and the Chief Medical Officer of the NC Dept. of Health & Human Services about the continuing spread of COVID, the delta variant surge, and the increase in cases among school age children, the Board of Education voted 4-3 Sept. 14th decision to make masks optional. Madden, who had requested that all schools in Lincoln County adopt a mask mandate, sent another letter to schools last week in which he urged them to reconsider that decision. One of the three school board members who voted against the proposal asked for a special meeting but that was denied. The school board will (by law) have to discuss the issue again at their next regular meeting on Oct. 12th.

[Lincoln Herald note: the following paragraph was rewritten after we obtained a copy of the lawsuit.  It originally reflected our understanding of the complaint, but now includes a direct quotation from the lawsuit.]

The lawsuit says "in discarding its mandatory mask policy, the Board of Education knowingly risks the health of its students and violates plaintiffs' right to a safe and sound basic education..."  It includes affidavits from a pediatrician and an expert on infectious diseases from Atrium Health. It says the number of new cases in August were the most since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lincoln County Schools administration put out a statement saying:

"Today, the Lincoln County Superior Court ruled that Lincoln County Schools can continue with its optional face covering policy for students and staff. Like all other school boards in North Carolina, the Lincoln County Board of Education will continue to review its face covering policy on a monthly basis, as required by law."

Catawba County's School Board voted Monday to continue requiring masks in their schools. Jennifer McCracken, Catawba County Health Director, noted the decrease in the district's quarantine and positive case data after the required face-covering policy was instated on September 2nd.

Monday evening, the Lincoln Charter School board voted 5-3 to continue its mask mandate.

Gaston & Cleveland County school boards had voted earlier this month to continue their mask requirement.  The Avery County school board voted 3-2 Tuesday to require students in grades 3-12 to start wearing face masks next Wednesday (Oct. 6th).  They had earlier decided to end their mask requirement.  The change leaves Lincoln County Schools as one of only five school systems in North Carolina without a mask mandate.

According to the latest COVID Snapshot from the Lincoln County Health Dept., 33 percent of new COVID cases in the past 14 days involved children 17 and younger.

Meredith Shuford, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, issued a statement saying "The plaintiffs and attorneys involved are disappointed that the judge denied a request for a temporary restraining order. The lawsuit is still pending.

"We are proud of the effort put forth at the hearing. Our complaint for relief includes two affadavits from established physicians, each with over 40 years of experience. Both advocate that a mask mandate for schools during the surge in COVID-19 is necessary to prevent lost time from the classroom as well as severe illness and death.

"I sincerely hope the Board of Education will consider the significant safety risks to the children, the staff and their families. I believe they should exercise caution when making the decision that impacts the lives of our children and our community."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools reported the death of a 7-year-old first grader on Thursday. Gaston County Schools lost a highly regarded kindergarten teacher. Lincoln County Schools has had two staff fatalities related to the virus--a bus driver/custodian at North Lincoln High School and a teacher at Battleground.

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