Conservative activists upset after NC principal won’t exempt kindergartner from mask rule

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A Raleigh principal’s denial of a kindergarten student’s face mask exemption, despite the child having a doctor’s note, is drawing outrage from some conservative activists.

The child’s mother had requested a medical mask exemption from Powell Elementary School, a magnet school in East Raleigh. The parent cited a pediatrician saying that the kindergartner was unable to keep a face mask on because of sensory processing disorder.

In a taped telephone conversation that was provided to a local conservative podcaster, principal Curtis Brower told the mother that he needed to see the child’s medical records and speak with the pediatrician. He ultimately rejected the request to let the child not wear a mask.

“I have the power to make a decision whether this is approved or denied in my school, yes ma’am,” Brower said in the phone call. “The doctor can give me whatever information. If I don’t feel like it would suffice, I deny it. It is my choice, unfortunately. It is the principal’s discretion and decision.”

The telephone call, which occurred in September, was provided by an anonymous parent to Matthew “Jax” Myers and played on his podcast on Tuesday. Myers made headlines in April 2020 when he was arrested after reopening his Apex tattoo parlor in violation of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order, The News & Observer previously reported.

Myers said on the podcast that the child is now attending Powell masked. But Myers said the child is having anxiety issues from the mask so she can only attend half days of school.

“We’re allowing the left to sacrifice this child on the altar of political correctness,” Myers said on the podcast. “That’s exactly what’s happening.”

School followed ‘district policies and practices’

Although the parent provided Myers with the recording, Wake County school officials said she has not yet given the school permission to share specifics about the case. Details about students are normally covered by federal privacy laws.

But Lisa Luten, a Wake school spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday that “the district has reviewed the circumstances described in the recording and, at this time, believes that the school’s actions are consistent with district policies and practices.”

Luten also said that Brower was unaware that the parent had been recording their conversation. North Carolina law only requires one party in a conversation to give consent for it to be recorded.

Powell GT Magnet Elementary School principal Curtis Brower pedals with students to Powell Elementary School in Raleigh Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Powell GT Magnet Elementary School principal Curtis Brower pedals with students to Powell Elementary School in Raleigh Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

Few students receive mask exemptions

The issue of wearing face masks has become a heated national topic, leading to protests at school board meetings across the nation. Face masks have become a common sight in schools since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with some parents arguing it should be a choice whether they’re worn.

Like most of North Carolina’s school districts, Wake County requires face coverings to be worn inside schools. Wake is the state’s largest school district, with 160,000 students.

“Studies have shown that universal masking helps keep secondary transmission rates low within schools,” Luten said in the statement. “In fact, in the last three weeks, WCPSS schools have no reports of secondary transmission of COVID-19 on school campuses.

“The bottom line: Masks are a key tool in keeping everyone in our school communities safe and our own data support that assertion.”

But Wake says it exempts students “if they have a medical condition or disability that renders mask-wearing harmful or medically inadvisable.”

Last school year, Luten said, Wake principals approved more than 200 requests for mask accommodations. The accommodations range from providing students with mask breaks to granting exceptions for students who are unable to wear a mask for the entire school day or parts of the school day.

That accommodation total doesn’t include special-education students attending regional programs, many of whom don’t wear masks because of their severe disabilities. Luten said parents of those students aren’t required to complete a mask accommodation form.

Some parents have complained about Wake being strict about rejecting mask exemption requests. Some Wake parents have gone on social media asking for names of conservative doctors who’d fill out paperwork supporting their child’s exemption request.

School tries to ‘desensitize’ mask concerns

In the Powell case, the parent cited letters from a pediatrician and a chiropractor who said wearing a mask would cause anxiety and agitation that would disrupt the child’s ability to learn. Brower said he needed more information on the case, citing how sensory processing issues can present differently for individual students.

Sensory processing disorder is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses, according to WebMD.

Powell GT Magnet Elementary School principal Curtis Brower pedals with students to Powell Elementary School in Raleigh Wednesday, May 4, 2016.
Powell GT Magnet Elementary School principal Curtis Brower pedals with students to Powell Elementary School in Raleigh Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

Brower told the parent that her daughter would have to wear a mask unless the accommodation request was approved. Brower said they could take steps such as providing her additional mask breaks and having her sit more than 6feet apart from other students.

“Because she’s not been wearing a mask and she’s new to kindergarten and she’s got sensory processing disorder, we’re willing to work with you to desensitize her concern and her needs with wearing a face covering,” Brower told the parent. “So in order to determine what this desensitization process is gonna look like, we just need more information from the physician.”

The request for medical records has drawn complaints from Myers and some other conservative activists. Luten said it’s common for principals to ask for student medical records when health accommodations are requested, such as for peanut allergies.

“We need this principal to be gone,” Myers said. “We need an example to be set and we need to find out if other principals are also doing this.”

Clayton Dillard, a frequent speaker at Wake school board meetings against the mask mandate, said on Meyers’ podcast that Brower “should be in jail” and “should be prosecuted.”

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