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Tension Brews Over Mandatory Masks In NC Schools Next Year

 Caldwell County kindergartener Ty Stewart modeled his dinosaur mask during the 2020-21 school year.
Caldwell County Schools
Caldwell County kindergartener Ty Stewart modeled his dinosaur mask during the 2020-21 school year.

With in-person classes looking likely for next school year, the question of whether masks are required in schools is shaping up to be the next COVID-19 pressure point.

At Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing, Health Secretary Mandy Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper talked about the rising number of vaccinated people and declining COVID-19 cases.

"That's more help for our plan to have all students in North Carolina be able to attend in-person school this fall," Cooper said.

A reporter asked Cohen whether students and employees will be expected to wear face coverings in the coming year.

She noted that children as young as 12 are now eligible for vaccination, but she said younger children are unlikely to have that opportunity by the time schools open in August. That means under the current federal guidance, masks would still be required.

Cohen said state officials will watch for any changes, "but as of right now, we want to be sure that we are protecting our students and making sure that those who are unvaccinated are wearing masks, so that is what we will continue to do."

"Stay tuned," Cohen added. "As we learn more we would update guidance as we go through the summer."

Union County Opposes Mandates

Tuesday night, the Union County school board unanimously passed a resolution urging Cooper to rescind the school mask mandate immediately and asking the General Assembly to fight mandatory masks and COVID-19 vaccinations for schools.

At the start of the meeting, the board heard from parents who said masks are not only unnecessary but harmful to students.

"I never thought there would be a debate on breathing fresh air," said parent Cathy Powers of Waxhaw.

Board member Gary Sides wanted to go further than the resolution. He made a motion to declare that masks would be optional in Union County schools beginning in August.

"What would happen," Sides asked, "if we find that we get maybe 25, 30, 40, 50 school boards around this state that decide to also grow a pair and say, 'Look, enough is enough. It’s time for parents to decide what’s right for children and for grown adults, educated adults, our UCPS employees, to decide for themselves what’s right for them and their family.'"

The board split 4-4 on Sides’ motion, which means it failed.

Copyright 2021 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.
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