New Hanover County Board of Education delays mask mandate decision, educators speak about low pay

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The New Hanover County Board of Education voted Tuesday night to delay making any changes to the in-school mask mandate until the Department of Health and Human Services discusses the county-wide mandate on Friday.

The board is required by the state to reconsider the mandate once per month. When the discussion began, board member Pete Wildeboer motioned to lift the mandate, contingent on DHHS lifting the county-wide mandate.

Board member Judy Justice made an amendment to that motion, asking that the board reconvene following the DHHS meeting, with health experts on-hand to answer questions.

Wildeboer and vice-chair Nelson Beaulieu voted against Justice’s amendment. Beaulieu expressed a desire to end the mandate immediately for students who are eligible for vaccinations.

The amendment passed 5-2, and the overall motion passed 6-1, with Beaulieu casting the dissenting vote.

The board will meet on Monday to consider lifting the mask mandate for all students, teachers, and staff. After Beaulieu brought up security concerns, it was decided the meeting will be held virtually.

A large group of parents and community members spoke out at the meeting, asking the board to let families make the choice for their own children.

“I’m for parent choice in the matter,” said David Perry, who recently filed a lawsuit against the board regarding its mask policy at public meetings. “I do think there’s some educational detriments in the quality of education when masks are involved, especially when it comes to vocabulary, speaking, the trust between teacher and student. I think these things are fairly well documented if you go search the internet.”

Beaulieu spoke about his position following the meeting, clarifying that he believes his fellow board members have students’ best interests at heart.

“For me personally, a mask is a small deal for a day, for two days, for three days, but we’ve been doing this a very long time now,” Beaulieu said. “I do think it’s important to give voice to people who aren’t screaming that this is tyrannical, but who are concerned about the effect that this is having on their children. So that was just me personally, but again I’m confident that our board is moving forward with the best interest of our students at heart.”

The time for next Monday’s meeting has not yet been announced.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the North Carolina Association of Educators made a plea to the board, asking them to increase wages for teachers’ assistants.

NCAE says TAs cannot live on a salary of $13 or $14 per hour. They are asking for a minimum starting wage of $17 per hour for those positions.

Some teachers say they work second jobs to supplement their income, and in some cases those jobs actually pay more.

“Offer me something, because I can go to Costco and start at $20-25 an hour and be appreciated,” said Ashley High School TA Christine Miranda Ambriz. “Substitutes are now making more than TA’s so really they’re making $60 more than me a day with less responsibility.”

“$14 an hour is not enough for even two working parents of one child to get a living wage,” said Winter Park Elementary School TA David Cantwell.

“Our kids can’t wait on a survey that’s going to tell you why our teachers are leaving, we’re telling you why we’re leaving,” said Forest Hills Elementary School TA Annalena Mills. “And you’re losing good people.”

Beaulieu spoke about the possibility of a raise for TAs.

“The thing you have to understand about funding is it comes from three pots, it comes from the federal government, the state government and our county funding partners,” he said. “I definitely support making sure that every single member of our classified staff is adequately compensated for the work that they do, so I’m always open to looking at ways that we might be able to do that.”

Beaulieu also encourages those with concerns about wages to contact legislators about the state budget.

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