Stanly school board recesses after heated public comment period on masking

Board says schools will not have mask mandate when students return in August

ALBEMARLE — While the atmosphere within the packed crowd at last week’s Stanly County Board of Education meeting was initially civil, the tone of the final 30 minutes took a contentious direction, and a recess was called to restore calm. 

Prior to the meeting, seven attendees had signed up to speak at the podium located at the front of the Gene McIntyre Meeting Room. The first five addressed the school board with concerns about the district’s mask policy, asking for an immediate end to required mask-wearing for students and teachers currently attending summer school.  

When it was confirmed that the final two citizens who had registered to speak had already left by the time their names were called, controversy erupted within the crowd as Chairman Jeff Chance concluded that the public comment section of the meeting was finished.  

Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis began to address the next item on the board’s agenda but paused when multiple people in the crowd raised their voices to ask about the rest of the time allotted for public comments.  

“We’d like to use our seven minutes, please,” one attendee said. 

Citing the school board’s official policy on public comments, Chance reminded the crowd that only those who signed up to speak could do so.  

“You can wait — we all showed up tonight to speak,” another attendee said. “Y’all are not God to sit up there and dictate. We put you in this place, and these kids have dealt with this for over a year. You can listen to what they have to say for the seven minutes that are ours anyway.” 

Chance responded by saying that per board protocol, no one else would be able to speak at the podium.  

“Protocols are stupid; do you see what protocols have got you? Just remember this coming voting season,” the attendee retorted.  

Following various cries from the crowd for board members to resign, Chance called a 10-minute recess and a large section of the crowd subsequently exited the building. The board members returned to their seats following the recess before yielding their final comments and immediately moving into a closed session.  

In regard to the board’s current mask policy, Chance had read aloud a statement from the board earlier in the meeting: “The North Carolina Schools Toolkit covered the 2020-21 school year and is set to expire, along with the governor’s mask mandate, on July 31. Therefore, we as a district do not anticipate, nor are we planning at this time, for our students to return to school in August under any kind of a mask mandate. 

“North Carolina Public School Superintendent Catherine Truitt put out a similar statement today, and in it she also supports each LEA — or local district — having the choice to decide for themselves whether students should or should not wear masks in the classroom,” the board’s statement continued. 

In a June 30 press release from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Truitt’s statement reads: “Knowing that school districts are entering the new school year with higher vaccination rates for adults gives me hope that we will see mask mandates removed for K-12 students in the fall. As a proponent for local control, I believe this should be a local decision – one made by school boards in tandem with parents, based on what’s best for their student population.” 

With the July 6 meeting cancelled due to its placement near the July 4 holiday, the next Stanly County Board of Education meeting is set for Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. in the Gene McIntyre Meeting Room.