Henderson Co. Public School Board reverses decision, now requiring masks in schools

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – The Henderson County Public School District is reversing it’s decision on masks in the classroom. The school board originally voted to make masks optional but now, they’ll be required.

Plea after plea to reverse course echoed in the chambers of the Henderson County Public School Board meeting Monday evening.

Those pleas were answered Monday night, just a week after school board members voted to make masks optional this school year.

Some board members said the change of heart is due to COVID trends heading in the wrong direction. Others expressed their disagreement with the mandate. That also includes community members who are still pushing for masks to be optional.

Autumn Ballerd has three kids in the district. She told us they’re disappointed by the sudden change.

“It is surprising that they reversed the decision so quickly after a week or so ago,” said Henderson County Mom, Autumn Ballerd.

One of those kids goes to Hendersonville Elementary School where classes are already underway. It’s a place where the county’s health department is reporting a cluster of COVID cases.

“We were told that if our children were directly impacted, we would be contacted by the school nurse or the health department which I was not,” Ballerd explained.

School leaders told 7 News, the board’s decision wasn’t a direct result of this cluster.

“That was a planned communication that was going to go out right after the board meeting,” said Molly McGowan Gorsuch with Henderson County Public Schools.

Paul Bagwell doesn’t care if it is or not. He’s all for the masks.

“Cases going through the roof, they had a cluster right over here. It’s a very simple solution, if adults would get vaccinated, the children wouldn’t need to wear a mask,” said Henderson County Grandfather, Paul Bagwell.

August 23 is when school officially starts in Henderson County. School leaders said they plan to reevaluate the mask mandate at future meetings based on school-affected positive cases, quarantines and staffing.

You can find the full press release and details on the announcement about the face coverings now being required below, along with the details around the ‘cluster’ of COVID cases.

“The school board voted Monday afternoon to overturn its August 2 decisions that had made face coverings optional effective August 23, and to provide virtual learning options based on students’ grade level.

Following the Henderson County Board of Public Education’s decision this afternoon, all students, staff,
and visitors will be required to wear face coverings indoors at all school facilities when students are
scheduled for instruction, except for those with legal exemptions already established by the NCDHHS
SafeSchoolsNC Toolkit.

The board also voted to provide an exemption to student athletes while participating in indoor athletics. Moving forward, the board plans to revisit the issue of mandatory face coverings at each school board
meeting, based on updated numbers of school-affected positives, quarantines, and staffing.
As directed by the school board last week, district administrators reported current school-affected positive
case and quarantine numbers. As of Monday afternoon, 19 school-affected positive cases had been
reported, and 44 students at Hendersonville and Bruce Drysdale elementaries had been quarantined due
to school affected positives.

Families choosing a virtual option for their children had been asked to commit to a full semester by 5 p.m.
today, to provide HCPS with accurate enrollment numbers for these new virtual-only classrooms and to
be staffed accordingly. As of Monday afternoon, only 3 staff members had applied to teach virtual-only
classrooms, whereas 380 students had chosen a fully virtual option instead of in-person learning.
Superintendent Dr. John Bryant indicated that the new virtual learning options introduced to families in
the last week had been launched in response to the board’s decision to make face coverings optional.
Given this and the inability to adequately staff new virtual classrooms, the board voted to suspend the
virtual learning options at this time.

Instructional “Return to Learn” plans and school system operations will be evaluated and refined based on
local health data as district administrators continuously monitor community health trends. Any additional
changes will be communicated to HCPS families via SwiftK12 emails and phone calls.”

Cluster confirmed at Hendersonville Elementary:

The Henderson County Department of Public Health has notified us that to date, 5 individuals at Hendersonville Elementary have lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 that are epidemiologically linked, meeting the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) definition of a “cluster.” We are working in close coordination with the Henderson County Department of Public Health to determine any students or staff who are considered to be close contacts.

Since our COVID-19 District Dashboard is updated with new school-affected cases the business day after a positive case is confirmed, please note this cluster and associated case will be updated on the Dashboard tomorrow morning. If you or your child has been identified as a close contact of an individual who tested positive, the Hendersonville Elementary school nurse or other contact tracers with the Henderson County Department of Public Health will communicate with you directly. Due to privacy requirements, we can not and will not disclose any personally identifiable health information.

Operations at Hendersonville Elementary will continue as usual, and HCPS will keep its school families informed of further updates. Those who have tested positive will follow health officials’ guidance to self-isolate at home per the current CDC guidelines. Quarantined students and staff will receive information from their school administrators about how they will access instruction, if they are well enough to do so while at home.

HCPS will continue to adhere to any guidance and recommendations from local health officials to keep our staff and students safe. If you have questions about the current quarantine protocols local health officials are following, please view the state’s NCDHHS StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit at www.covid19.ncdhhs.gov/guidance#schools.

If you have questions about school system communications or community health protocols within our schools, please contact the Office of Administrative Services at 828-697-4733. Thank you for your continued support of our students and schools.

This notification has been sent to families via email, text, and call, and is posted on our website here, per our notification procedures outlined in our “What to Expect When There is a COVID-19 Case in a School” document.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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