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Durham school board votes to keep indoor mask mandate

In this 2021 file photo, students arrive at Davis Drive Elementary to temperature checks and health screenings in the carpool line.
Kate Medley
In this 2021 file photo, students arrive at Davis Drive Elementary to temperature checks and health screenings in the carpool line.

The indoor mask mandate will stay in place in Durham Public Schools after a unanimous vote Thursday by the school board.

However, restrictions will ease for outdoor activities. Starting next Wednesday, students will no longer be required to wear masks at recess or sports events. The board will formally vote on the indoor policy later this month.

At a meeting earlier this week, board member Natalie Beyer said indoor masking remains an effective strategy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

"Let's get past spring break. Let's take a little more time to be cautious," Beyer said. "And I want our folks who are frustrated to know this is not forever. This is a little while longer."

The state's two largest school districts, Wake County and Charlotte Mecklenburg schools, made masks optional starting earlier this week.

A study from Duke University's ABC Science Collaborative released this week showed school districts with strict mask mandates had almost 90% less COVID-19 community spread compared to those that don't.

The North Carolina legislature failed on Wednesday to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would have allowed K-12 students to opt-out of COVID-19 mask-wearing mandates.

The legislation would have given children, with their parents’ permission, the option not to wear a mask in school districts that have ordered students and staff to wear face coverings. Mask mandates have been issued to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The measure was written by Republicans and approved last month. That came the same day Cooper had encouraged boards of education to end broad indoor mask requirements amid falling COVID-19 transmission rates and rising vaccination numbers.

But with all but five of the state’s 115 school districts already shifting to mask-optional policies — most over the past several weeks — the effect of the legislation for now would have been minimal. Those still with mandates include Durham and a handful northeast of Raleigh near the Virginia border.

Bill supporters have said the opt-out measure was needed to affirm that parents can make health-related decisions for their children.

In his veto message, Cooper said a 2021 law that left mask-mandate decisions to local school boards was still the right way to go. He also warned against passing laws that “encourage people to pick and choose which health rules they want to follow,” especially when it comes to future public health challenges.

WUNC Digital Producer Joe Jurney contributed to this report.

Will Michaels is WUNC's General Assignment Reporter and fill-in host for "Morning Edition"
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