Thursday, August 12, 2021
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter (unless noted otherwise)

School board reverses course, requires masks

Once again the vote was 4-3, but this time Lyn Andrews joined Al Byrd, Kay Carroll, and Terri Sessoms in favor of requiring face masks for students and staff in all grades when Johnston County's public schools open the 2021-21 term August 23.

Ms. Andrews sided with Ronald Johnson, Todd Sutton, and Mike Wooten when the board voted 4-3 at a special session July 29 to make mask wearing optional in classrooms.

She changed her position at Tuesday's meeting after Assistant Superintendent David Pearce told the board that the state's COVID-19 protocols require students exposed to the virus from an unmasked classmate to be quarantined for 10 days even if they were wearing masks. Students could remain in school if all of them, including the infected student, were wearing masks, he said.

"I hate masks. I hate putting 'em on small children," Ms. Andrews stated. "I hurt for the kids who have to put these things on all day long. I don't want that for them. But I know this: They're not going to learn if they're not in school."

Mr. Carroll, who made the motion to restore the mandate, said requiring masks along with social distancing and sanitation practices is "our best chance of giving parents what they beat us up about: in-person learning."

Following the board's decision, 12 of 14 citizens who spoke during the meeting's Public Comment period thanked the slim majority for restoring the mask mandate. Among them was Dr. Chuck Williams, a physician who said his practice in Clayton has seen "an incredible increase" recently in coronavirus cases, "most of them children."

Prior to the vote on masks, Assistant Superintendent Pearce said the school system had already determined that masks would be required for all who ride school buses, in line with an edict from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Virtual Academy enrollment deadline extended
In the wake of Tuesday's decision on masks, the school system has extended the deadline (originally July 31) for enrolling in its online Virtual Academy for all grade levels. LEARN MORE about this option on the school system's website>

Board unanimously extends superintendent's contract

Johnston County's Superintendent of Schools Eric Bracy came here last summer under a four-year contract with an annual salary of $195,000 plus supplemental benefits including a $20,000 performance bonus if he meets "objective measurable goals" approved by the school board.

Board member Terri Sessoms made the motion at Tuesday's meeting to extend his contract. "Dr. Bracy has just completed his first year as our superintendent," she noted, "and this past year has got to be the most challenging time for any superintendent. Dr. Bracy has successfully navigated us... through the many challenges that COVID has thrown our way....

"Because of his leadership, it would be my honor to move that we extend our contract for an additional year," Ms. Sessoms proposed. Her motion, adopted by unanimous vote of the board, made no mention of a salary adjustment.

Acting on another matter following its monthly closed session on personnel, the board approved Superintendent Bracy's recommendation to transfer Assistant Principal Melissa Finch from West Johnston High School to South Smithfield Elementary.


Johnston's positivity testing rate soars above 14%

And that's one of the factors that prompted the county's Board of Education to reconsider an earlier decision and make face masks mandatory again for all students and staff in Johnston's schools.

Assistant Superintendent David Pearce reported to the board at its meeting on Tuesday that the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests being administered in Johnston had climbed to 14.1%. A week ago Dr. Marilyn Pearson, the county's health director, reported the rate had risen above the "red alert" threshold of 10%. Two weeks earlier the positivity rate here was just above 7%; a month before that: around 3%.

Over the past week (from the table below)...
• Johnston County recorded 749 new coronavirus cases and one death.
• North Carolina as whole: 32,586 new cases and 90 deaths.
• The United States as a whole: 804,331 new cases, 3,791 deaths.
• Worldwide: 4,365,897 new cases, 67,045 deaths. 

Blamed for the recent spike here and around the world is COVID-19's Delta variant, found to spread more quickly than the initial virus, especially among young folks.

What's the status of vaccinations in Johnston County?
Here are our percentages as compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this week:
• 37.6% of total population fully vaccinated (state's latest report shows 39%).
• 44.7% of population 12 years of age and older fully vaccinated.
• 47.5% of adult population (18 and older) fully vaccinated.
• 74% of population 65 and older fully vaccinated.

VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

VIEW the current list of testing sites in Johnston County>


Case total
since 3-20 

(last week)
since 3-20 

(last week)

(last week) 

(last week)
82,517: 39%*
(81,681: 39%)
4,981,343: 47%*
(4,940,832: 47%)
UNITED STATES 36,097,052
  166,861,912: 51%
(165,081,416: 50%)
WORLDWIDE 204,380,499
total doses given
Information from: County of Johnston at 4:20 p.m. August 10
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:15 p.m. August 11
Johns Hopkins University at 1:21 p.m. August 11
* Percentage of total population (all ages)



Here's how a couple of spots could be "dressed up" as envisioned by the Smithfield Appearance Commission in its annual report presented to the Town Council last week. Shown above are finishing touches proposed for the new picnic area overlooking the boat ramp. On the right are murals that could be added to the backs of Third Street buildings along an alleyway between Market and Johnston streets as part of a Downtown Art Walk.

The commission reported to the council that it has $28,121 in grants from the Johnston County Visitors Bureau for those projects. Another goal for the year ahead is replacing 14 trees along Market Street.

Stuart Lee chairs the Appearance Commission. Other members are Vice Chair Robin Cook, Connie Barbour, Tim Depp, Julia Narron, MaryFoy Ragsdale, and Peggy Scott. Currently there are two vacant positions.



It's to replace a failing 24-inch drainage pipe that's believed to be more than 60 years old with a 60-inch metal culvert. The N.C. Dept. of Transportation said the old pipe had begun to separate at some of its joints, causing the road's pavement to sink and crack. NCDOT said the rebuilding could be finished by the end of the day Friday but may not be done till next week. To get around the closure, local motorists are advised to use I-95 between Exit 90 (U.S. 701) and Exit 93 (Brogden Road).


Be out the lookout for alternating one-way travel anywhere along Buffalo Road between U.S. 70 at the Selma Oil Terminal and the Wake County line north of Archer Lodge between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays. The N.C. Department of Transportation said the roadway's resurfacing, which began this week, will last about four weeks, weather permitting.


River Rat Regatta on the Neuse this Saturday

The action is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at the boat ramp on the river at the north end of Front Street. One at a time, two-person "crews" will coax "boats" made up of cardboard from there to the Market Street bridge. Awards will be offered to first and second places in both youth and adult divisions and overall to "Best Decorated" craft, and there's a Titantic Award for "Most Memorable Sinking." This is the second annual River Rat Regatta, organized by the Smithfield Parks & Recreation Department. Last-minute registration will be open at the site from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Rules along with an entry form are posted online>

County Commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. Monday

On the agenda is awarding of a contract to construct a Public Safety Center next to the county's Detention Center already under construction off US 70 Business east of Smithfield. Commissioners previously authorized Moseley Architects to add the second facility to its plans for the new jail. Monday's meeting will be held in the Commissioners Meeting Room in the Courthouse with limited seating for the public. The proceedings will be live-streamed on the county's Facebook page>
VIEW the complete agenda for Monday's meeting>


Public invited to meet fire-chief finalists this evening

They are Mike Morton, assistant fire marshal for the City of Winston-Salem, and Michael Brown, deputy fire chief for the City of Wilson. They'll be on hand to meet the public from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. today (Thursday) in the Town Hall Council Chambers.

Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home
CARLOS SILVA, 50 – died August 10
JESSE FRANKLIN CAPPS JR., 49 – died August 7
HOMER GRIMES JR., 84 – died August 7
WATSON CARL WHARTON, 71 – died August 5



"School safety" isn't entirely left up to parents

Among the citizens who thanked the Johnston County Board of Education Tuesday for restoring the in-school mask mandate was Stuart Lee, who addressed the issue of school safety versus parental choice:

"In Johnston County there could be a slight threat of snow.... The first thing we do is we close the schools down because there's a perceived threat to our students, our teachers. We never once say, 'You know what: maybe today, rather than closing schools... let's give parents the choice of busing our kids in'...."

Then he read from a placard on the meeting room's wall: " 'All Johnston County public schools will create shared learning environments that are safe.' It doesn't say 'safe' and in quotations 'but up to parental choice.'

"I hope the next time this comes up," he concluded, "that it's a universal raising of hands" in favor of protective measures when it comes to COVID-19 – "that it's not parental choice. It's a public-health crisis. It's about the safety of our schools and our students."

Let's hope that "next time" things will be much better than they might have been because of the board's decision on Tuesday.


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