Face Masks are Optional for Students and Staff

LENOIR, NC (November 9, 2021) — Face masks were quickly removed at the School Board meeting held on Monday, Nov. 8 after the Board of Education unanimously approved Face Coverings Policy (4231/5021/7263) that defines a metric that will be used to determine whether face masks are required or optional in schools. Based on this policy, face masks are now optional for students and staff effective immediately per Board action.

“I’m not here to argue the efficacy of masks,” said Superintendent Dr. Donald Phipps. “This is an effort to provide a safe, healthy, and comfortable learning environment through a transparent and systematic method that minimizes the risk of COVID transmission and is consistent to enhance and further school operations.”

According to the face coverings policy, face masks will be optional whenever the COVID positivity rate for students and staff is 0.5 percent or less within a three-week rolling average. Currently, the school district positivity rate is 0.2 percent. In other words, 99.8 percent of the student and staff population has not tested positive or reported confirmed cases of COVID in the last three weeks.

Each week the total number of positive COVID cases among students and staff is calculated in a three-week average, and if that number exceeds 0.5 percent, then masks are required systemwide. The calculation is made weekly, which may affect the face covering status the following week. Parents will be notified on Fridays of the face mask status for the upcoming week. The information will be updated weekly on the school district’s website at caldwellschools.com.

Students started the school year wearing face masks as an optional protocol. Within a week, increased community transmission and excessive quarantines due to the requirements of the Department of Health and Human Services as outlined in the StrongSchools NC Public Health Toolkit (K-12), resulted in the School Board meeting on August 16 and mandating face masks. However, the Board indicated then that this could change according to current health conditions.

Bus riders, however, should not expect to see any changes anytime soon on face mask requirements. By executive order of the federal government, students who ride a school bus are required to wear a face mask.

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