Dozens of parents showed up at the Harnett County Schools Board of Education Monday night to express their feelings about the system’s ever-changing mask mandate.
Parents from all corners of the county signed up to speak about the mandatory mask requirement imposed by HCS last month, just weeks after the school board twice voted to make it an option. From the ineffectiveness of masks to the district’s quarantine protocols, nearly every speaker lashed out against what they felt was an egregious example of government overreach.
“This is no longer about following the science,” Michael Clark said during the public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting. “The children of Harnett County are not being forced to breathe through cloth for eight hours a day because of safety. According to the CDC’s own data in 2020, 94% of COVID deaths involved three underlying conditions. The point here is the danger that most Americans face from COVID is vastly overblown. The effectiveness of masks has also been grossly overstated.”
Clark joined a chorus of parents threatening to pull their children out of public schools. Many felt frustrated with the flip-flop vote held by the board last month and the lack of more definitive studies supporting the effectiveness of masks.
“For the past two years, I’ve seen how governmental overreach has gotten out of hand and I chose to stand up and speak out,” said Michael Green from Angier. “A mask mandate doesn’t follow actual science that is based on widely available data on the ineffectiveness of masks. The bottom line is the mask mandates do not work and they offer almost no protection to viral pathogens. None of the masks actually approved for school use actually stop any viral particles from getting through, so what’s the point?”
Erwin’s Joshua Terranova said forcing his son to wear a mask all day at school actually increases exposure to germs.
“You are putting masks on my child’s face and this mask is soaking wet by the time he gets home,” Terranova said. “He is breathing through this at 93 degrees and it’s growing bacteria that he is breathing directly into (his) lungs every single day, every minute.”
Grace Burns, a sophomore at Harnett Central High School, shared her experiences of the past year with the board, saying the mask mandates caused her additional anxiety and stress on top of being forced into a remote learning environment part of the time. Burns said she looked forward to a more normal school year and was encouraged by the board’s vote last month to make masks optional.
“So far nothing about my high school experience has been what I imagined,” said Burns. “I was so proud of Harnett County for standing strong against [a mask mandate]. You did not break or bend under pressure, until you did. You failed me. You failed every child. You have an idea of false safety with faulty science to support the muzzles you are promoting. This is about choice, pure and simple. If you feel masks keep you safe, you should wear a mask. These decisions should be in the hands of my parents, not yours. My education is your concern, not my health. As a teen, I have enough concerns and pressures to balance without having the added weight on my shoulders. Stop using me for your political gains.”
Jessica Register from Lillington said one of the two children she has in Harnett County Schools recently got placed in quarantine after having lunch with another student who tested positive for the virus.
“My child has to be punished because he was sitting within 6 feet of someone who tested positive,” Register said. “My child got no school work for two days because someone tested positive. How fair is that? Quarantines are for sick people, correct? It’s not for the well. We’re all here fighting for something we shouldn’t have to fight for: our own freedom to choose what is best for our children. Common sense tells us that the mask has not been proven to work in preventing people from getting COVID. There are many of us ready and willing to take our children out of the public school system and do what’s best for them.”
Sanford resident Amy Smith shared a similar story regarding the system’s quarantine policy and her son.
“He was exposed at no fault of his own and was out of school for a week and a half,” said Smith. “He only received some of his assignments and the rest, it was like a vacation for him. Why are we not taking antibodies into consideration? Who makes these decisions? Why should a child be out of school for two weeks with not an education whatsoever?”
Several speakers supported the mask mandate, including Lillington attorney Tracy Berry, who said the school system already has such policies in place. Berry mentioned dress and conduct codes at certain HCS schools and said masks protect families from the highly contagious Delta variant.
“Here in North Carolina alone, how many children have to die for you to be able to not sleep at night?” Berry said. “Mask mandates are not about a freedom of choice issue. They want you to believe that. This isn’t politics. These are children. One person with the Delta variant spreads exponentially to everyone else.”
Jovan McLean from Fuquay-Varina pointed to a surge of positive cases at both Overhills High School and Western Harnett High School as proof the virus is very much active and needs to be handled in a safe manner for both students and teachers.
“I’m standing here because I do want my children to be masked,” McLean said. “I don’t want my children coming home sick with COVID because a student chose not to wear a mask. I work, so if I’m at home sick, who is going to pay my bills? I want the masks to stay on. I want my children wearing a mask, I want them to be safe and I want to know that they’re safe and well taken care of.”
Sarah Daigle followed McLean and said she respects her choice, but asked for people to respect hers.
“If she wants a mask, she has every right to make that decision,” said Daigle. “For me, I don’t want to mask my children. The government can’t figure out what’s going on. We have scientific facts and we don’t have scientific facts. Everything is flip flopping. The government can’t decide for all of us. We need to make our own decisions.”
HCS extended its public comment period to one hour Monday night and parents took advantage of every minute. Matt Gore from Lillington asked what the long-term mission is and if students would be masked up indefinitely. Gore said he was willing to give the board a pass for last spring and even the 2020-21 school year in general, but no more.
“You don’t get a pass this year,” Gore said. “You will not continue to force a medical device on my child without constant push back. This has become a talisman with no basis in science. This isn’t about safety and never has been. It is about control, to see how much we are willing to put up (with) before we push back. Data has proven by several studies, including the CDC, that masking children in schools has no impact in preventing the spread of COVID.”
Gina DeMaris from Fuquay-Varina asked to see the studies showing masking children prevents spread of the virus. She questioned the inconsistencies surrounding when and where children are masked, and the overall effectiveness of them in general.
“If the motivation for such a policy is health, then where is the peer-reviewed, randomized study to show that the benefits of masking outweighs the risks?” DeMaris said. “I have looked, I have asked doctors, I cannot find one. I did, however, find 65 studies showing how masks are ineffective and in fact harmful. Do you recognize the absurdity of an entire class removing their masks to eat lunch and replacing their mask once lunch is over? Did the virus agree not to spread during this time of masklessness? I do not consent to the forced medical treatment of masking.”
Coats resident Christina Rogers said people aren’t beholden to any of the guidance coming down from the government and Catherine Schwoebel told the board her child comes home from school upset due to wearing a mask all day.
“My school-aged child comes home every day crying and upset because she feels light-headed, dizzy and faint,” said Schwoebel. “Did you know the dirtiest part of your body is not your privates or your rectum, it’s actually your mouth. And we’re asking our students and teachers to keep cloth over their mouth to keep that nastiness inside. We clearly don’t have a case problem, we have a quarantine problem. We should not send home our healthy students or healthy teachers.”
Board members eventually voted 3-2 to go back to its initial ruling and make mask use optional starting Oct. 5.
Eliot Duke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 910-230-2038.