Senior Hadley Balser hops out of her car and slides the loops of her mask over her ears before heading toward the school. The renewed mask mandate requires her to wear a face covering, and she’s happy to oblige.
“[Masks] prevents more unnecessary stress, quarantines, hardship and even death,” Balser said. “Extending [the mandate] was a very smart move.”
The Brevard County school board voted 3-2 to keep the mask mandate in place through Oct. 29 during a special meeting on Oct. 5. A motion authorizing the superintendent to shift the mask mandate to a parental opt-out also passed, now that COVID-19 cases in the county decreased to 50 per 100,000 residents.
District 5 Representative Katye Campbell said the mask mandate is unnecessary for those who have contracted COVID-19 as the CDC has recognized at least 90 days of natural immunity.
“[The school board] is putting into place a mandate when we have thousands in our community who have recently had COVID, for which a mask is now just a symbol,” Campbell said. “It’s not helpful. We have people wearing a mask really for no reason.”
The audience was removed from the proceedings following outbursts against District 3 Representative Jennifer Jenkins for supporting the mandate.
“I feel like this is a conversation for our entire community,” Jenkins said during the meeting. “Every single representative in this community has made their voice very clear on where they stand on this issue, when that decision is in our hands.”
Campbell said the meetings contain time for the community to voice its opinions for a reason.
“There is a part of every meeting where we get and value participation from the public,” Campbell said. “The conversation that happens for the rest of the school board meeting is not supposed to be between the school board and the public. When it becomes this back-and-forth, then it’s no longer what the purpose of the school board meeting is. There’s a level of civility that we need to hold onto.”
The audience may express its views nonverbally. Campbell said she appreciated the use of green and red flags to show approval or disapproval at a previous meeting. According to Campbell, the board had repeatedly threatened audience removal from the proceedings if the shouting continued.
“If the distraction doesn’t stop, we’re going to clear the room,” she said. “At some point, you have to deliver the consequences that you’ve promised. Whether people liked it or not, we had a much more peaceful meeting. People took it seriously.”
Campbell said the disagreement in the community negatively affects students.
“There’s the never-ending mask war, whether it’s on social media, in the boardroom, in the news,” she said. “I hate for our students to be sucked back in, caught in the middle. I want [the students] to learn, to grow, to make connections with [their] peers. I think this is a huge distraction.”
According to Jenkins, the COVID-19 contact-to-case percentage in schools dropped lower than the contact-to-case percentage in the community the week of Sept. 26 for the first time since school began.
“We’re finally doing something right to mitigate the spread within our schools,” Jenkins said. “We don’t have control over our community.”