Dare Ed Board unanimously backs mask mandate

By on September 1, 2021

Dare County Board of Education

But some members voice reservations in remarks

By Michelle Wagner and Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice

This is an updated story.

With 78 Dare County students currently infected with COVID-19 and more than 400 students in quarantine, the Dare County Board of Education unanimously voted on Sept. 1 to reverse its Aug. 5 decision and mandate universal masking for all students, staff and visitors in Dare County School buildings. The mandate is effective beginning Thursday, Sept. 2.

The board also voted to allow parents to change their student’s status from virtual learning to in-person learning or vice versa through Sept. 6 at 5 p.m. Students will be required to continue in their chosen mode through the first semester.

Also, the board voted to allow lead administrators to limit non-essential visitors in their school buildings as well as to make vaccine information available on the district’s COVID-19 website by providing a link to the Dare County Health and Human Services vaccine information.

Due to new legislation from the N.C. General Assembly requiring school boards to have a policy on masks and to vote monthly on that policy, the Dare County Board of Education will revisit its policy on a regular basis.

The 7-0 Sept. 1 vote comes on the heels of a number of pleas by local medical professionals asking the board to mandate universal mask wearing, including a letter from Outer Banks Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Daniel Dwyer indicating that local medical facilities were taxed and in crisis due to the surge in cases caused by the Delta variant. A petition by local medical providers also circulated last week also asking for the mandate.

Board Vice Chair Margaret Lawler, the sole member who voted against parental choice on masking at the Aug. 5 meeting, made the motion for universal masking following the recommendation by Superintendent John Farrelly. Both Farrelly and Dare County Health and Human Services Director Sheila Davis made a similar recommendation on Aug. 5.

Farrelly told board members on Sept. 1 that of the 399 that were currently quarantined as of the morning of Sept. 1, 350 of them would not have been quarantined had there been a universal mask mandate in place. Farrelly also noted that the number of instructional days missed by students currently in quarantine is 5,586.

“I don’t want to get into a public debate about masks,” Farrelly asserted. “But I’m just stating that if the goal is to keep kids in school, if that’s the goal, then the path is either to reduce the number of kids who are in schools or go to universal masking.”

The quarantining guidelines from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services indicate that if there is universal masking in the schools, only the person who tests positive for COVID-19 must quarantine, regardless of vaccination status.

If there is not universal masking, however, any unvaccinated person within six feet of a COVID-19 positive case must be quarantined. The Dare County Department of Health and Human Services follows the guidance from the state.

Before the vote, Farrelly noted that Dare County was currently among only nine North Carolina school districts currently without a universal masking policy in place. On Aug. 27, the Currituck County Board of Education reversed its previous decision and instituted a universal mask mandate effective Aug. 30. The Currituck district is also instituting optional COVID-19 testing on-site.

In their remarks, a number of members of the Republican-dominated board indicated that the vote was a difficult decision and that they approached the prospect of universal masking with reluctance. But ultimately, they acknowledged that given the students already being quarantined, universal masking was needed to keep the school doors open.

“This has been a very trying time,” stated Board Member Frank Hester. “I think the thing that that probably bothers me the most is the division that this has caused within our community.”

Board Member David Twiddy added that, “I want to keep the schools open for our students, and as long as they are wearing a mask, the quarantines should be much lower based on what was presented tonight.”

In his remarks, Board Member Joe Tauber asserted that, “This board still, notwithstanding the Dare County Health Department’s ability to quarantine our students, we’re still in favor of parental rights in our schools.”

“Masks will not halt this virus, but I suppose they can slow it,” added Susan Bothwell, who raised questions about the efficacy of masks, but added, “As I see it, the board of education’s goal is to have kids in school with face-to-face learning.”

Despite the passions and anger stirred by the masking issue at schools, there was really only one extended vocal outburst during the meeting.

For the most part, the crowd of roughly 60 or so sat quietly, with a few of them brandishing signs. But right before the vote on the masking policy, a man rose at the back of the bleachers in the First Flight High gym and began shouting repeatedly before he was ushered out by several Dare County Sheriff’s Deputies. As Board Vice-Chair Margaret Lawler tried to control crowd noise, a woman began shouting before she too was led from the room.

The one school board member who was at the meeting remotely rather than in person, and who spoke infrequently, was Chairperson Mary Ellon Ballance. Given widespread speculation to that effect, the Voice asked Ballance on several occasions if she had either contacted COVID-19 or was in quarantine. She declined to answer.


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  • Oliver Thatch

    Imagine if the school board actually listened to medical professionals the first time they voted instead of popular opinion. Maybe we wouldn’t have a 78 of our children sick and 400 quarantined. It’s about time that you stop trying to protect your jobs and appease voters and start doing your jobs and protect our kids. Y’all should be ashamed of yourselves.

    Wednesday, Sep 1 @ 11:37 pm
  • Dennis Parker

    Failed leadership by a school board not following the science. This is herd immunity working naturally and it astounds me any person of medical background in Dare County would be on board with masking that has been proven to be ineffective. Remove these young people from this politically driven madness.

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 7:17 am
  • Zack Bass

    Let the verbal fistfights begin!

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 10:02 am
  • Disgruntled

    Interesting to see the word “infected” being used. Is that different than a case?

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 10:50 am
  • Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice


    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 11:38 am
  • Mary

    @Oliver Thatch
    Well said!

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 11:20 am
  • Michael

    Popping a bag of popcorn right now!!!

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 11:53 am
  • Concerned Parent

    The question that needs to be asked is how many of those 400 quarantined students that were in “close contact” have tested positive or had symptoms of COVID while in quarantine? Some counties in this country have optional masks, optimal contact tracing, optional quarantine, optional testing. If none of those 400 students tested positive or had symptoms, then the “Contact Tracing” needs to be addressed if it’s worth it,because that is what kept those 400 students out of school. Another question is who makes the decision to have “contact tracing” if some counties have it optional. Is it the County Health Department, Commissioners…? Is it all a recommendation and the County decides?

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 12:07 pm
  • Lemonshirt

    yea yea, we all know that masks do not definitively protect the wearer from contracting covid. But we also know that masks do greatly lessen the transmission from a masked carrier to their close contacts. (That’s why surgeons wear masks). Wearing a mask is no more an infringement of your personal freedom than is a speed limit.

    Be a good citizen and mask up whenever you cannot socially distance. Its the right thing to do.

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 12:21 pm
  • Donna Welles

    Hi! I am writing about the mask mandates. I want the mask mandates to end. We’ve been wearing the masks for so long. People are really protesting them in other parts of the country.

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 12:53 pm
  • sandflea

    Hopefully the students will receive a much better science education than the anti-vax/mask crowd and school board.

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 2:47 pm
  • Sean Mulligan

    My wife and I are glad we do not have school age children.I could care less about all the conflicting opinions because of all the conflicting information.I love it when someone uses the science term because the scientists do not all agree.A sad situation and possibly a psychological situation for the kids.Hopefully it will go away or we will learn to live with it like so many other diseases.

    Thursday, Sep 2 @ 8:53 pm
  • Fred McPeters

    It’s sad that something as simple as wearing a face mask is ripping our community and, on a much larger level, our nation apart like this. I truly feel we’re doomed if we can’t figure out how to overcome this together… because our problems as a nation and a society are only just beginning.

    Friday, Sep 3 @ 12:41 am
  • Lucas


    You are exactly right about our problems as a nation and a society are only just beginning. Sean Mulligan, you are also right in your statement about not all science agreeing. Masks and vaccines are definitely further contributing to the division of our already divided society. We used to be a society where people took care of themselves and were not so concerned about what everybody else is doing. We have become a society that expects everyone else to take care of us instead of taking care of ourselves. We no longer make decisions based on what is in our own best interest, we now try to force everyone else to make decisions based on what is in our own best interest. As a whole society, we have become very selfish but also very dependent on everyone else to take care of. We are far removed from the generations before us that minded their own business, worked hard and made the best decisions that they could make to take care of themselves. Given the current direction of our society, I see this only getting worse. We have become much more like sheep and much less capable of thinking for ourselves or working for what we need.

    Friday, Sep 3 @ 9:22 am
  • Michelle Taylor

    I am against mask mandates. However, I support the Board in their decision and would have voted the same way if I were in their seat. The issue to fight isn’t at the BOE level. It is around the draconian quarentine laws that the BOE has no control over. The elected board fought for parental choice in another way and were successful by re-instating the virtual school option. Virtual school impacts funding as it is lower cost than in person school. It is great that the board thought about the parents on both sides of the issue and ensured their needs were represented.

    Friday, Sep 3 @ 2:11 pm
  • Wombatnc

    @ Dennis Parker & Sean Mulligan,
    Who are these “scientists” who don’t believe that masking helps to prevent the spread/transmission of diseases and viruses?? Names, articles, links? Other than your Faux News “experts” & Facebook “facts” you are going to have a very hard time coming up with a legit science/medical professional (AMA, CDC, etc.) who backs your claims.
    @ Lucas – it’s called community and common good. Neighbors looking after neighbors. Schools making sure that kids are healthy and can obtain an education so that can contribute to society once they graduate. Your argument is frivolous and displays the typical “canned response” to any COVID issue directed from the right. A civic responsibility (not Democrat or Republican) is to be/get vaccinated and wear a mask, if not for yourself, then for the elderly, a neighbor, church member, or someone with underlying health issues. It really isn’t that difficult.

    Once again, school board (and especially judiciary) elections should be non-partisan!

    Friday, Sep 3 @ 3:38 pm
  • hightider

    Yeah, I skip the articles and go straight for the comments. Listening to y’all argue is worth price of admission.

    Friday, Sep 3 @ 5:04 pm