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School system adopts optional mask policy for start of year | Local News


JUSTIN EPLEY Editor-in-Chief, students and staff at Burke County Public Schools will be able to choose whether or not to wear masks in school buildings for the start of the 2021-22 school year, subject to change.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Monday August 2 to correct a quote from Burke County Health Director Danny Scalise.

The Burke County School Board made the decision to adopt a policy of optional masks at Thursday night’s meeting at the Olive Hill Resource Center in Morganton, which was specially convened for the purpose of discussing the issue in regards to concerns the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote went 5-2 with Wendi Craven, Seth Hunt Jr., RL Icard, Jane Sohovich and Sam Wilkinson voting for the optional mask policy and President Buddy Armor and Don Hemstreet opposing the measure. For a council known for the consistency of its votes, the result marked a diversion in this direction.

“Option 1,” the optional mask policy adopted by the board of directors, was also the one recommended by BCPS Superintendent Mike Swan and his staff. Swan said his recommendation aligned with decisions previously made by school systems in Caldwell, Catawba, Lincoln, Mooresville, Rowan-Salisbury, Union and Watauga.

Swan said he was targeting a specific learning problem by recommending optional masking, noting that students can be difficult to learn and communicate with teachers due to visual and hearing restrictions caused by masks.

“As an educator, the acquisition of the language that I have seen in the younger classes – we have been 18 months in a difficult situation with our students (wearing masks) – to get this student to see the acquisition is very crucial at this young age, “he said.


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