Randolph County schools end mask mandate

Southwestern Randolph High School (FILE } CC 4.0)

Deadline to sign up for virtual learning looms

ASHEBORO — Cloth face coverings will be optional in the Randolph County School System when classes begin next month, a logical next step in returning closer to normal, district superintendent Steven Gainey said Tuesday.

Dr. Stephen Gainey, Superintendent of Randolph County Schools

“This is giving people their option,” Gainey said. “The board just felt like it should be the individual decision. … The board and I have been listening to questions about cloth facing coverings for several weeks.”

Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the upcoming elimination of many mask mandates. However, he also recommended that students in grades K-8 wear masks at school. And contradicting its own mask recommendations from this May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to revise its mask guidance Tuesday afternoon, saying fully vaccinated Americans should wear masks indoors in communities where there is substantial or high transmission.

Gainey said the intention in the district is to allow the decision about masks to be with individuals, something that follows his general belief that these things are personal choices.

“It’s parallel to that,” he said. “I’m just really proud of our board. … a board that has really battled this issue.”

The Randolph County School System resolution came at last week’s board of education meeting – a few days before Cooper’s update on the topic. The school system’s decision went into effect immediately, meaning it applies to the remainder of summer school programs as well.

Following the unanimous vote, board chairman Gary Cook said, “We were one of the first school systems to step out last year and go to school when a lot of systems didn’t and we made a decision tonight that not a lot of school systems can make.”

Uwharrie Chater Academy will not require masks for students, staff, and visitors for the opening of the 2021-2022 school year. The school’s board voted last week to end their mask mandate.

The Asheboro City Board of Education will likely take up the issue of mask mandates at an Aug. 12 meeting, according to the school board’s press office.

There will continue to be some restrictions when the school year begins. For instance, Randolph County parents will be prohibited from entering district buildings during school hours as a means to eliminate potential risks during the pandemic.

Even that is subject to change.

“Hopefully we all get past that,” Gainey said.

Gainey said the decision on face coverings was something that the board wasn’t able to make a year ago. Yet he said he received no complaints last year from parents about some restrictions because the desire for in-person learning was so strong throughout the district.

“That tells me how committed our community was to having face-to-face schooling,” he said.

Contract tracing will continue to be part of the district’s procedures when positive cases of coronavirus are identified.

Virtual set-up still available

Randolph County students wishing to be fully virtual for the 2021-22 school year must indicate that by Aug. 1.

This is an option that might suit some families, Gainey said.

As of last week, more than 120 students on the K-8 grade levels had made the commitment for a full school year as part of the stand-alone school for virtual learning. Gainey said it was a risk to set up this academy – which will be run out of a separate building at Tabernacle Elementary School in Asheboro — but something board members felt strongly about.

“I think it answers another need out there,” he said.

Going through another school year of asking teachers to do some virtual and some in-person instruction wasn’t feasible, particularly at the elementary school level, Gainey said.

“It looks like it’s moving in the right direction,” he said.

There remains multiple options for off-campus instruction within the district’s high schools.

Gainey said a survey in the spring convinced the board to offer the virtual versions. “If things ramp up in the summer, people are going to want that option,” he said.



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