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Guilford school board reaffirms controversial mask requirement
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Guilford school board reaffirms controversial mask requirement

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GREENSBORO — The Guilford County Board of Education voted 6-2 on Tuesday night to continue supporting a mandate that requires the wearing of facial coverings in school settings, an issue that has become a flashpoint in districts across North Carolina.

Board members Anita Sharpe and Linda Welborn voted in opposition to the mandate. Deborah Napper was absent.

Guilford County Schools already has a mask requirement in place, but as part of a new state law, school boards are now required to adopt policies on face coverings and vote on them at least once a month.

The district requires masks for all staff, students and visitors while in school buildings and in other school settings as determined by the superintendent.

Guilford County also has its own, broader mask mandate, which requires the wearing of facial coverings in indoor public places, including schools, regardless of what policy is set by the district.

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Last school year, school districts carrying out in-person instruction were mandated by the state to require masks for staff and students. In July, Gov. Roy Cooper let that mandate end. Cooper is now recommending, but no longer requiring, that schools mandate the wearing of facial coverings.

Just prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, two groups demonstrated outside the school administration building for different reasons.

Take Back Our Schools — GCS was rallying against the mask mandate. One boy held a sign that said, “I can’t breathe.”

An unaffiliated group gathered nearby, holding signs with messages such as “Teach Children The Truth.” Group members said they wanted to support schools leaders and to call for truthful teaching, especially related to discrimination and inequity.

“We just want more inclusive teaching of history,” said Betsy Harrington, a Greensboro resident. “We are still living with the residue of the past.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, teacher Michael Logan expressed frustration to board members that there wasn’t an opportunity for the public to comment when the mask mandate was first adopted in late July. He said the school board could have been more transparent about its plans.

Dr. Charlene Green, a local anesthesiologist who also spoke during the public comment period, said health care workers continue to care for COVID-19 patients “with the utmost respect” in the midst of an exhausting pandemic.

“We need to really protect our children,” she said.

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.

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Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, wrote a letter to the Union County school board Wednesday. In it, she urges the board to follow required policies for quarantining, isolating and excluding students, teachers and staff who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19. Not following the rules poses “an imminent hazard to public health,” Cohen wrote to Melissa Merrell, chair of the school board.

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