Education

Masks part of pandemic dress code for NC middle, high schools

Posted June 30, 2020 5:25 p.m. EDT
Updated July 1, 2020 5:54 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Roy Cooper was expected to provide more details Wednesday on reopening public schools across North Carolina during the pandemic, but if and when students do return to the classroom, masks will be widespread.

Late Tuesday evening, Cooper's press office said in a press release an announcement would not be coming Wednesday.

The state Department of Health and Human Services wants all school staff to wear masks, as well as all middle and high school students, including on school buses and outside school buildings whenever social distancing is difficult. Masks are "strongly encouraged" for elementary school students.

The DHHS guidelines were updated last week to conform with the state's new requirement that people age 11 and older cover their faces in public to limit the spread of coronavirus.

"We are going to follow that guidance at a minimum. We know that masks are important for our students and staff to help keep everybody safe," Chip Sudderth, spokesman for Durham Public Schools, said Tuesday. "We want to have masks on all of our elementary students as well. We recognize that the younger the student, the more challenging it can be to keep the mask on."

Jameya Green, who has worked with elementary, middle and high school students during her six years with the district, said she doesn't think requiring students to wear masks throughout the school day will work.

"I think it’s necessary, but I don’t think it’s possible," Green said. "The elementary and middle school students might have a difficult time keeping it over their face and keeping their hands away from their face and not pulling it down, or even with elementary students possibly playing around with each other, pulling down their mask [and] running away."

Hope Valley Elementary School teacher Tori Mazur agreed about the "developmental appropriateness" for masks.

"My second graders are very touchy-feely. ... If I were to require them to wear a mask, I don’t know how well that would go over," Mazur said. "But having taught middle schoolers and high schoolers, who can make decisions about their bodies and when it’s appropriate for breathing and emergencies, I think they can handle it. But it also just depends on what the adults around them do."

Still, she said, adults modeling the appropriate behavior will be key to how well students adapt to wearing masks at school.

"If the community comes together and sends the message that this is normalized, kids will get on board with it," she said.

DPS plans to issue each student three washable, reusable masks, Sudderth said.

"We are going to take masks as far as we can possibly go," he said, agreeing that teachers and other school staff need to become role models for wearing masks. "Our ideal is every student has a mask from the moment they get on the bus to the time they come back home."

Avis Dixon, who has a grandson in a Durham middle school, said she would like to see schools require masks at all ages.

"This COVID knows no age, it knows no color, it knows no race," Dixon said. "For protection for our young, so that they can get from [elementary] school to middle school to high school, they need to be protected."

DPS also plans to continue online classes for all high school students this fall, Sudderth said, to free up those classrooms as elementary and middle school students are shifted around for more social distancing.

"We know that, especially in our community, childcare is a huge concern, and having a safe place every day to have continuous instruction, it’s important for all of our students, but our youngest students are especially vulnerable," he said. "By freeing up spaces in our high schools, we can spread out our elementary and middle school students across the district."

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