Polk Schools change mask policy

Published 11:21 am Tuesday, January 11, 2022

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New policy follows CDC guidelines for 7 days

COLUMBUS—Polk County students and staff can wear masks on an optional basis after the Centers for Disease Control has marked Polk County out of the high range for COVID-19 for 7 consecutive days. 

The Polk County School Board met Monday and voted 6-1 to change the temporary mask policy. The previous policy was that masks could become optional once the county had less than a 5 percent positivity rate for 2 consecutive weeks. 

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Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene said the county was recently up to a 20 percent positivity rate. He said there were 20 cases last Wednesday and 28 cases on Monday in the school system. 

“It’s definitely spreading around our community,” Greene said. 

The school system is also being impacted by cases of the flu, stomach viruses and strep throat and is already short staffed, he said. The school system had to close Tryon Elementary School last Friday because of being short staffed. Greene told board members they almost had to close Polk Central and the high school has been hit hard as well. 

Polk County had a record number of cases last week at more than 130 new positive cases. 

Greene said they are working as hard as they can to keep students in school. Vaccination numbers are still low for minors in Polk County, Greene said, and he mentioned that Henderson County Schools switched back to mask requirements on Monday. 

Greene said temporary school closures may result in the coming weeks, but at some point Polk is going to have to move forward. Greene told the board the school system cannot continue at this pace. 

“It has become a divisive issue and is not sustainable over time,” Greene said. 

All North Carolina school systems have to make a decision on masks every month. Polk County School Board member Judy Jackson initially motioned to make masks optional Feb. 1. 

Board chair Michael Ashworth said he does not think they could set a date at this point. Jackson’s motion failed. 

Board vice-chair Rick Covil motioned to follow the CDC guidelines and once the county is out of the high community transmission category on the CDC website for 7 days masks can be optional. That motion was approved 6-1. 

“Thank you everybody,” Ashworth said. “I know this has been a tough subject for us. I appreciate the patience on everybody’s parts.”