GREENSBORO, N.C. — Guilford County Schools' Board of Education voted Tuesday night to approve the mask mandate for students and staff.
Board members approved the measure in a 6-2 vote.
Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras and county health leaders presented their health and safety recommendations for the upcoming school year at Tuesday's school board meeting.
According to a memo sent to school board members, Contreras and Nancy Giurrato, Executive Director of Health Services, recommended GCS require everyone wear masks. GCS would revisit the policy every 10 weeks.
Contreras also recommend students and staff who are not fully vaccinated participate in mandatory COVID-19 testing if they play sports or do any other high-risk extracurricular activities. This policy is consistent with guidance from the CDC and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, according to the memo.
"We cannot go backward and go through what we went through the last 17 months," she said.
"I think this was the most responsible and the least that we could do considering that we're bringing children back to school full time and that they will all be with each other," said Board Chair Deena Hayes-Greene, "We don't have the kinds of space to do the social distancing, the PPE is an issue, so the least that we can do right now given these sort of problematic numbers is the mask protocols."
The district will be keeping track of the vaccination statuses of all employees, student-athletes, coaches and students participating in high-risk, after-school activities. According to GCS's lawyers, the district can ask the students because they are participating in voluntary activities. GCS can ask employees for their vaccination status because they are an employer.
The proposal was met with mixed reactions from parents and teachers.
"My son plays two sports, Kimberly Shobe said. "I don't want him tested. I don't want him tested, and if I thought felt like he needed to be tested I would take him."
Michael Logan teaches automotive classes at Southern Guilford High School and said wearing masks can be tough in hands-on courses.
"You get out of breath because you are in an environment where you're moving around," Logan said. "On the other hand, I do have to be closed to students. I can't show a student how to use a piece of equipment with a car on it that may fall on them and kill them without them being close to me."
Other parents said these recommendations would make them feel more comfortable sending their students back to school.
"This is what we're dealing with. We are still trying to figure out new ways to make sure people stay safe especially students stay safe," Jade Bell said. "Everyone needs to continue to wear a mask vaccinated or not."
"I feel like it's going to be very good for the students so they continue to stay in class. So I think it's gonna be great for everyone," Thaitianna Price said.
GCS said that 48% of people eligible for the vaccine in Guilford County have both shots. 29% of eligible students are fully vaccinated.
The positivity rate in Guilford County increased from 1.8% to 4.7% since the beginning of July.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said schools should collect vaccination data from their employees and students. This will allow them to develop plans that fit the needs of their community. They also said schools should require everyone to wear masks because most K-8 students are not eligible for the vaccine, and the vaccination rate from eligible students is low.