The Wilkes County Board of Education voted 4-1 Monday night to continue requiring that students, staff and visitors wear masks while indoors in the Wilkes schools.

School board member Hardin Kennedy voted against the motion to continue requiring masks as he did when the board first implemented the mask mandate during an emergency meeting on Aug. 30.

Kennedy said before voting Monday night, “Right is right and wrong is wrong. I didn’t agree then and I still don’t agree with this, referring to mandating wearing masks in schools.

He said he agreed with recommending that masks be worn in schools and opposed penalizing people who don’t want to wear them.

Kennedy said COVID-19 “has resulted in double standards everywhere and there is no such thing as truthful, legitimate information, so all I know is what I see.”

He said the Wilkes County Schools led other school districts in the state in having the fewest active COVID-19 cases in September 2020, with only 23 active cases at one point then.

Kennedy said that as of last week, the Wilkes schools had 543% more active cases and over 1,092% more people in quarantine than at the same time in 2020.

He said 13% of active cases in the Wilkes schools as of last week were athletics-related, when masks aren’t worn.

He said 48% of active cases last week in the Wilkes schools, or 193 out of 404 in quarantine, resulted from household contacts and 9% (36 people) from community contacts. Kennedy said the school board has no control over these situations.

He said 24% of the quarantine cases as of last week resulted from classroom contacts.

Kennedy said masks don’t protect people from getting COVID-19. He said he also opposed requiring people to do things with their bodies.

Rudy Holbrook, school board chairman, voted against requiring masks in the Wilkes schools on Aug. 30 and voted for the mandate Monday night.

Holbrook said during the meeting Monday night that he was voting for the mask mandate now because earlier he said he would stand behind the three school board members in their support of requiring them.

Holbrook said he still doesn’t think the school board should require wearing masks in the schools.

Monday night, school board member Sharron Huffman made the motion for continuing the mask mandate. It was seconded by school board member Kirk Walker. Voting with Holbrook, Huffman and Walker for the motion was school board member Joan Caudill.

Under state legislation recently signed into law, North Carolina public school boards must vote every 30 days on whether to continue their requirements at that time regarding masks in schools.

Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd said that means the Wilkes school board will vote on the matter again at their Oct. 4 meeting.

On Aug. 2, the Wilkes school board voted unanimously to make masks “optional for everyone in the school as long as the county threshold of positive cases for school age students stays below recommended levels.”

This is what Byrd recommended.

Byrd said Monday that as of Friday, the Wilkes schools had two additional COVID-19 "clusters." One was at East Wilkes High School and the other at Central Wilkes Middle School. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services defines a cluster as five or more apparently related positive COVID-19 cases in a 14-day period in a school setting.

East Wilkes High School announced Tuesday that football games this week against Mount Airy (JV game Thursday in Mount Airy and varsity game Friday in Ronda) have been postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests. It was also announced that the East Wilkes JV and varsity football games against Elkin next week have been postponed for the same reason.

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