The Macon County Board of Education met Monday night for their regular monthly meeting and after over an hour of public comment regarding the district’s mask mandate, on a motion made by Hilary Wilkes and seconded by Carol Arnold, the Board approved by a 4-1 vote to continue mandatory face coverings inside all Macon County School facilities. Board Member Tommy Cabe opposed the motion.
Prior to the board taking a vote on the district’s mask policy, dozens of parents and community members addressed the board in opposition to requiring masks. The group also protested outside of the boardroom ahead of the meeting. Despite masks being required within school district buildings and signage requiring such, the majority of the group did not wear masks.
Last month, Cabe was joined by Nantahala board representative Melissa Evans in casting the dissenting votes against requiring masks within school buildings, however Monday night, Evans changed her vote, citing the recent death of her father, who passed away 10 days prior to the board meeting due to COVID19.
“I think parents should have a choice, but listen to me here,” Evans said. “If I have a choice between my grandbabies wearing a mask and being in school or being sent home and school being shutdown…they can’t learn at home. I lost my dad a week and a half ago to Covid. He was 84 years old and he died. He was in the hospital for four weeks. He had the vaccination and he never left home. So do I think masks work….my personal opinion… I don’t. I don’t think they make a difference…. but not being in school hurts them more than being sent to school wearing a mask.”
Cabe, who has served the Macon County Board of Education for nearly 19 years, addressed comments from a parent stated during public comment period regarding his loyalty to both pray and salute the flag before Monday night’s meeting. “I spoke out of turn earlier, but that is because I had a lady tell me that when I said a prayer and saluted that flag that I was being dishonest. And that is a bunch of bull,” said Cabe. “I was born and raised right here. I served 10 years in the military. I spent 70 days underwater to preserve the freedom of this country and this county. And someone is going to stand here and try to tell me that I don’t have these kids at heart? I have grandkids. I have great-grandkids. I don’t believe in masks. I think someone should make their own decisions, but I was also brought up to believe that the majority rules.”
An average of 27 cases per day were reported in Macon County, a 29 percent decrease from the average two weeks ago. Cases in Macon County have decreased recently but are still remain high. To date, September has been the month with the highest average cases in Macon County. The number of hospitalized Covid patients has risen in the Macon County area, with area hospitals continuing to be placed on diversion. The Macon County Department of Public Health reported two additional COVID19 deaths on Monday, bringing the county total since the beginning of the pandemic to 58. The test positivity rate in Macon County is very high, suggesting that cases are being significantly undercounted.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 1 in 8 residents have been infected, a total of 4,553 reported cases.
The Macon County Board of Education reported that as of last Friday, there are a total of 42 students currently positive for COVID19 with 196 students in quarantine. There are currently 10 staff members positive for COVID19 and another seven in quarantine.
Based on the most recent information available for the state, 112 of the state’s 116 school districts now require masks for students this Fall. Union and Yancey County schools have remained optional for masks since the beginning of the school year. Both Harnett County and Lincoln County voted this month to return to a mask optional policy, following the decline in COVID19 cases within their respective counties.
The Macon County Board of Education have said since the beginning of the school year that when the county’s positivity rate drops below 10 percent, that the district would be comfortable returning to a mask optional policy within Macon County.