The majority of speakers at the Board of Education’s regular session meeting were not Oconee parents but their children. 

Five North Oconee High School students implored the BOE and Superintendent Jason Branch to implement a mask mandate and share more detailed information on mask wearing.

One of the speakers was NOHS senior Alex Womack, who, along with two other students, co-authored a January petition demanding a mask mandate. Initially, Womack was anonymous. But as the semester progressed, he realized the importance of going public with his concerns.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, Branch noted that a number of people who signed the petition were neither students nor parents of students. 

“Whether or not Dr. Branch’s intent was to diminish the merit of the over 3,000 who signed, the outcome was one to that effect,” said Womack, explaining that community members who don’t have children in the school system still pay school taxes. “The misrepresentation of this petition is appalling.”

NOHS junior Fiona Waller, who was part of the school’s mock legislative club, asked several of her peers to attend Monday’s meeting with the hopes of changing OCS policies on COVID-19.

“You can have a lot of adults come up and speak, but really, you turn around and listen when it’s a student telling you their personal experiences.” 

Waller gave anecdotal accounts of classrooms in which the majority of students are not wearing masks. School officials have provided a sunnier picture of mask compliance. OCS has also spearheaded a  persistent and vigorous campaign that encourages mask wearing. Some principals have even handed out masks to students at the beginning of the day.

However, NOHS senior Fletcher Johnson, who helped make the school’s “Mask Up” PSA video, said those efforts have not been enough. He and his peers spent a day taking a head count of students who wore masks and discovered that the number they came up with fell short of the school district’s goal.

Although all the citizens who spoke at Monday’s meeting were in favor of a mask mandate, more than a dozen people who spoke at the Jan. 11 meeting were against a mask mandate.

For more on this story, see the Feb. 11 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website.

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