The County School Board on Thursday voted 5-4 against a motion to tell teachers they don't have to wear masks at school if they don't want to.
The idea was brought up by Rhonda Thurman and Chairman Tucker McClendon. Some board members said they heard of the vote just that day.
Ms. Thurman said teachers tell her "my students don't know what I look like. I want them to see my smile and be able to personally interact with them."
She said most people now have ditched their masks. She said she seldom sees them at ball games and other community events.
Mr. McClendon said even the many teachers who have been vaccinated and have booster shots "have to wear masks 8-9 hours at school." He said a "common sense" approach would be to give them the option.
Interim Supt. Nakia Towns advised against the move. She said, "Nobody is more exhausted than school personnel." But she said it is still necessary to be cautious.
She said as of Thursday there were 67 students and 16 staff with COVID. She said in June the average of new cases in the county was 18 and today its 82.
Dr. Towns said 74 percent of teachers were vaccinated, but younger children are not eligible for the shots and teens are not likely to get them. She said the school system "is not close" to "herd immunity."
She also said that the schools have only been able to call on 100 to 150 substitute teachers a day and regular teachers are having to fill some spots.
Board member Joe Wingate said the board would be "stepping in a rabbit hole" by approving the motion. He said board members don't have the medical training to make such a decision and might later have to "step into poop" and reverse course.
On the other hand, James Walker said, "It's time. It's time" to give teachers relief from masks.
Voting in favor of the motion were Ms. Thurman, Mr. McClendon, Joe Smith and Mr. Walker.
Against were Mr. Wingate, Karitsa Jones, Tiffanie Robinson, Jenny Hill and Marco Perez.