RANDOLPH COUNTY — Students and staff in Randolph County will return to school this fall without a mandate to wear a face covering after school officials made the determination during a July meeting.
Randolph County Board of Education passed a resolution earlier this month to make masks optional in school settings. In citing the statewide mandate that was lifted on June 11, school board members said the CDC has announced that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most settings.
On July 9, the CDC issued new guidance for COVID-19 prevention in K-12 classrooms. Randolph County followed 10 days later with its own announcement, emphasizing individual freedom as a pivotal aspect of the decision.
“The Randolph County Board of Education believes strongly in the rights of individuals to make decisions regarding their own personal health,” RCS Superintendent Stephen Gainey read from the resolution. “All students, staff and community members are encouraged to make their own decisions in respect to their personal health and to choose whether to wear a mask.
“Any harassment, descrimination, bullying or intimidation based on any person’s decision to wear or not wear a mask will not be tolerated.”
The resolution makes the optional mask wearing effective immediately. Therefore, it applies to the remaining days of the Randolph summer school program as well as the 2021-22 school year.
Also stated in the resolution, the county is not considered to have a critical rate of COVID-19 community spread. Children under 12 years of age cannot be vaccinated, however, so there remains some concern among residents that students could contract the virus.
“I strongly encourage people — if you want to wear your mask, wear your mask,” board chairman Gary Cook said. “If you’ve been vaccinated and you still feel like you need to wear it, wear it.”
COVID hospitalizations have doubled since July 9 and are at the highest rate they have been since May 11. This created a degree of uncertainty about what school systems would implement to address the issue of masks.
Obstacles in distinguishing between vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff, though, raised concerns about enforcing mask mandates, school officials said.
“You’re not going to make everybody happy,” Cook said. “It’s in your hands. You have a choice. Whether you choose to get a vaccine or not, that’s your choice. Someone asked me today what my inspiration was to get the vaccine. I work with a lot of elderly people in the business I’m in. I got customers and people coming by who are 80, 82, 85 years old, and they’re all getting the vaccine.
“I was saying, ‘You know what, if they’re going to go out and get it and take the chance,’ that inspired me to get it. For me, it was a good feeling when I go out that I didn’t have to stay away from people.”
Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.