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Face off: Against advice, more N.C. schools are dropping mask mandate
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Face off: Against advice, more N.C. schools are dropping mask mandate

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RALEIGH — A third of North Carolina school districts will not require face masks when students return to class from the Thanksgiving holiday break.

At least 39 of North Carolina’s 115 school districts have voted to make face coverings optional, according to a database maintained by the N.C. School Boards Association. Most of the state’s public school students are in districts that still mandate masks, but the number making face coverings optional is steadily increasing.

School districts are caught in the middle between parents who say masks should stay until more children get the COVID-19 vaccine and other parents who think the mandate should have ended long ago.

“We’re just in a really bad time until we can move forward,” Transylvania County school board chairwoman said Tawny McCoy, who chairs the Transylvania County school board.

The small, western school district is like dozens statewide that have reversed course multiple times since the summer over whether to require face masks.

Individual school boards and charter schools are making decisions because the state doesn’t have the final say like it did last school year. State lawmakers are also requiring monthly votes on masking policies.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that schools require face masks be worn indoors. But in October, the agency revised its recommendations to say that schools can consider not requiring masks if the COVID-19 transmission rate in their county drops to moderate or low levels.

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As of Tuesday, only six of North Carolina’s 100 counties — Halifax, Hertford, Lee, Northampton, Scotland and Tyrrell — have low to moderate COVID-19 transmission rates. All the school districts in those counties still require masks.

In Gaston County, the school board voted this month to end the mask requirement against the recommendations of the county health director.

“In life there are risks and rewards for every action we undertake,” Jamin Jenkins, a middle school parent, told the school board before its vote. “I know there are risks of rolling back mask mandates. But I believe the rewards outweigh the risks.”

The 76 school districts still requiring masks represent 64% of the state’s K-12 public school enrollment.

The number of school districts voting not to require masks has doubled in the past month. School leaders in those districts have cited how the number of new COVID-19 cases has been dropping.

But not every school district is following suit. In Henderson County, the school board voted at an emergency meeting this month to temporarily restore the mask mandate for students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The vote came after the district saw a spike in the number of elementary students testing positive for the coronavirus.

The reason given for the change was to provide more time for these younger students to become fully vaccinated.

“Parents and families have the opportunity to choose a vaccine if they believe it to be best or not,” Henderson County Superintendent John Bryant told the school board.


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