Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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Congressman Madison Cawthorn of Hendersonville was first in line to address Johnston's Board of Education during the first of two "Public Comment" segments at Tuesday's meeting. (Screenshot from school system's YouTube broadcast)

School board hears plenty from protesters,
postpones required vote on mask wearing

Johnston County's school board endured the brunt of a nationwide campaign against mask mandates during Tuesday's monthly meeting. But a vote on whether to continue requiring mask wearing by students and staff in Johnston's public schools was postponed till next week because of one board member's absence.

The husband of Terri Sessoms died unexpectedly last week and she did not attend Tuesday's meeting. At the outset of the session, Mike Wooten suggested the board delay another vote on masks until all board members could take part. Chairman Todd Sutton scheduled a virtual board meeting at 2 p.m. next Monday to take up the masking issue as required each month from now on by a new state law.

Outside the board's meeting room in the Simpson Building more than a hundred anti-masking protesters made their presence known. Yet only 25 citizens were allowed inside the cramped board room at any one time to make their pleas directly to school officials present, mask wearing required.

Those who addressed the board were strictly limited to three minutes, and that included U.S. Representative Madison Cawthorn, a first-term Republican who traveled all the way from North Carolina's westernmost Congressional District to fuel the protest as a right-wing political celebrity.

"Our children live in a world where science and reason have been cast aside and replaced with fear," he declared. "Our children have been muzzled, forced to grow up in a world where their emotions are hidden and their voices are smothered. During the most impressionable time of their lives, children should not be forced to obey destructive, unscientific mandates from the heavy hand of government....

"Forcing our children to wear masks is nothing short of psychological child abuse.... Children are struggling to breathe, struggling to concentrate, fighting headaches, and struggling to learn.

"We're here today in the heart of our state, in King Cooper's backyard, to declare 'No more!' (referring to N.C. Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat). It's time to stand up to Roy Cooper and say firmly that the family and individual freedom always comes before the government....

"Defy Roy Cooper. Make masks optional, end contract tracing, and end these burdensome quarantine requirements. Let us declare in one loud voice that we will no longer be bulled by radicals who trample our liberties in the name of safety."

Most of the two dozen citizens, many of them parents, who spoke during Tuesday's meeting echoed Mr. Cawthorn's remarks with repeated claims that "science is on our side" while declaring mask mandates counter to "our God-given freedoms."

Just three speakers voiced support at the meeting for the schools' masking requirement. However, more than 40 written comments were e-mailed to the board urging continuation of the current mask mandate.

WATCH the archived video of Tuesday's meeting (two Public Comment segments begin at the 2:09:45 and 4:53:20 time marks)>

READ the written comments e-mailed to the Board of Education this week>

A physician's report from the front lines

At the outset of Tuesday's school board meeting, Chief Medical Officer Rodney McCaskill of Johnston Health spoke about an "awful August" that "has taken a big toll on our staffs" at hospitals in Smithfield and Clayton, which at one point saw more than half their 150 or so patients victims of COVID.

Dr. McCaskill said hospital staffs are especially discouraged as they deal with a rising number of deaths among Johnstonians in their 30s and 40s.

He said the Delta variant of the coronavirus is far more infectious than the original strain. With Delta, one person is likely to infect eight others rather than just one or two, Dr. McCaskill noted.

He reported that 100% of local ICU patients on ventilators are unvaccinated. But he did express hope that the latest COVID outbreak has reached its peak.




County posts hospitalizations and deaths by age

The Johnston County Public Health Department this week began posting age breakdowns for COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths among Johnstonians:

Of 55 in hospitals as of Tuesday, 25 were age 65 and older, 20 ages 50-64, eight 24-49, and just two under age 24.

Of 296 deaths as of Tuesday, 230 were persons 65 and older, 48 ages 50-64, and 18 ages 24-49. No deaths have been reported so far for persons under 24.

The Health Department's mid-week report showed 479 "breakthrough" cases (vaccinated persons infected) and 172 re-infections. The Johnston County Jail continues to lead "Institutional Outbreaks" with 111 inmates and 4 staff members infected. Nursing homes and assisted-living centers account for a handful of cases.

Johnston County Public Schools report 202 active cases among students and staff with 842 students and 52 staff members quarantined as of Thursday morning. A week ago 1,049 students were quarantined.

Schools with the most students in quarantine this week (30 or more cases): Selma Elementary 50, Polenta Elementary 45, 
Four Oaks Elementary 38, South Johnston High 38, Glendale-Kenly Elementary 36, Archer Lodge Middle 34.

VIEW the latest report for all of Johnston's public schools>

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)
91,441: 44%*
(89,542: 43%)
5,408,292: 52%*
(5,314,240: 51*)
UNITED STATES  41,439,256
  179,289,983: 55%
(176,659,496:  54%)
WORLDWIDE 226,142,621
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 4:25 p.m. September 14
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 11:50 a.m. September 15
Johns Hopkins University at 2:21 p.m. September 15

Schools amend policy to address racism

Board member Lyn Andrews reported at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting that its Policy Committee on September 1 adopted an addition to the schools' personnel policy that addresses the teaching of racism.

"No student or staff member shall be subjected to the notion that racism is a permanent component of American life," reads one section apparently aimed against the teaching of a controversial academic concept known as Critical Race Theory.

The policy incorporates suggestions from school board member Ronald Johnson in response to an ultimatum from County Commissioner Fred Smith that additional funding for Johnston's public schools this year will be withheld until the school board adopts a policy banning CRT.

During one of the "Public Comment" segments of Tuesday's board meeting, CRT opponent Dale Lands complained that the Policy Committee's amendment isn't sufficient. "We need more," he told the board. "We need a stand-alone policy... that will satisfy the commissioners." And he threatened to work against the next school-bond issue to be put before voters "if we don't get this policy in place."

VIEW the newly adopted policy in full, posted on the schools' website>

READ MORE from Tuesday's Board of Education meeting>



On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the horrible terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001 the Smithfield-Selma High School community gathered first thing last Friday morning for the school's 20th consecutive annual commemoration. It's likely none of today's SSS students were yet alive on that fateful day. (Photo from Johnston County Public Schools' Facebook page)


Cars lined up for breakfast on a beautiful Saturday morning this past week at Scooter's Coffee Drive-Thru, a new addition to the mix of retailers at Smithfield's rejuvenated Pine Needle Square Shopping Center on North Bright Leaf Boulevard at Hospital Road. Owners of the new enterprise are Shawn and Jennifer Pearce and Rob and Jocelyn Southerland. It's open daily from 5:30 a.m. till 9 p.m.



Bell ringing Friday to mark Constitution's birthday

The Smith-Bryan Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution will stage a brief ceremony at 3:45 p.m. Friday on the front steps of the Courthouse in Downtown Smithfield to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. A Presidential proclamation asks that bells be rung nationwide at 4 p.m. to mark the moment of signing at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

SSS hosts South Johnston in Friday night football

The Spartans had an open date last Friday. They'll take on 3A conference rival South Johnston High at 7 p.m. this Friday at Charles Tucker Stadium on the SSS campus. Tickets to the game may be purchased online>

Neuse Little Theatre opens 47th season this weekend

The season's first show is "Never Too Late," a comedy by Sumner Arthur Long that will be presented this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m., and the following Friday and Saturday evenings at The Hut at the corner of Front and Market streets in Downtown Smithfield. Members of the cast are D. Anthony Pender, Nancy Gibbs, Mary-Leigh Hamilton, Shaun Braswell, Reggie Parker, Patsy Castellano, Scott Newell, and Stephen Roberts. To reserve tickets, call 919-934-1873.

County Commissioners scheduled to meet Monday

The board's regular third-Monday session is set for 6 p.m. Monday at the Courthouse. On the agenda is reconsideration of the Town of Princeton's request for more than $1 million from the county to help pay for storm-water and water-line improvements. The board will also consider county participation in a feasibility study regarding the East Coast Greenway and Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The complete agenda for Monday's meeting is posted on the county's website>

Autumn's astronomical arrival next Wednesday p.m.

The exact time is 3:21 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. That's when the Autumnal Equinox occurs. Fall's official meteorological arrival was the first of September.

Practically speaking, it doesn't feel like autumn around here before October.

Even, this young maple (right) at the South Second Street Dog Park apparently thinks it's autumn already as its leaves are turning red here in mid-September.




Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

ARTHUR BERNARD THORNE, 75 – died September 15

JANET GAIL HARPER, 63 – died September 14

JAMES EDWARD BRANTLEY, 57 – died September 12

JAMES MICHAEL WOOD, 47 – died September 11

REUBEN LEROY DAVIS, 73 – died September 10

ANDRES LOPEZ PEREZ, 47 – died September 10

ROBERT (BOB) LESLIE SCOTT, 93 – died September 10

WILLIAM EDWARD SHARPE JR., 62 – died September 9

LINDA FAYE JOHNSON STANLEY, 77 – died September 9

MERVILLE (MERV) WHITE SESSOMS JR., 76 – died September 7


For sale: highly visible commercial property

Former Jewel Box store on its own lot at 1699 East Booker Dairy Road, Smithfield with more than 30 parking spaces. Price reduced to $569,000.

Fonville Morisey Realty   •   919-669-9235   •


Johnston and Union counties: similar yet different

Both are fast-growing suburban neighbors of North Carolina's largest cities: Raleigh and Charlotte. Both have similar-size populations and school enrollments.

But one requires masks in its public schools; the other does not.

Last week Union County Public Schools reported 479 positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff and a whopping 7,381 of both in quarantine. Union started the school year back in late August without a masking requirement (and this past week ended mandatory quarantine of students exposed to the coronavirus).

Meanwhile, Johnston County Public Schools this week reported 202 cases among students and staff with a total of 894 in quarantine.

Johnston's Board of Education is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to continue mandatory masking or give in to cries for parental choice. Can we not predict what the latter course will produce?


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