More NC districts vote to make masks optional this fall

Total of 14 NC school districts eliminate mandate for K-12 students

FILE - In this May 18, 2021 file photo, fifth graders wear face masks. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

RALEIGH — The school boards for Mooresville Graded School District and Cabarrus, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln, Pender, Sampson and Watauga counties have voted to make masks optional for all students for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

There are now 14 districts making masks optional for the 2021-22 school year. Previously, five other boards had passed mask-optional motions: including Harnett, Haywood, Randolph, Rowan-Salisbury and Union Counties.

Sampson County’s school board voted to make masks optional for all K-12 students and staff at its meeting on July 26. Cabarrus, Caldwell and Lincoln also recently held similar votes.

On July 23, Pender’s board unanimously voted on a resolution to make masks optional. Mooresville Graded School district’s board voted on their proposal July 25.

The Pender board’s resolution cites the fact that all of their staff and employees were offered the vaccine. It also cites the extremely low mortality rates for children versus adults and the low transmission rate from students to staff.

After the vote, Pender board member Beth Burns said she wanted to thank all of the parents who have gone out of their way to email Gov. Cooper and Sen. Rabon about SB 173.

“I believe that you have made your voice heard, and we thank you for giving us back the power to make this decision today,” Burns said.

Burns also said that when they made their July 20 announcement that masks would continue in Pender County, the board “had no idea the governor was going to have a press conference” updating school guidance the next day. She said that “it might have been bad timing on our part, but we did not know that the governor was going to do this.”

For the Mooresville board meeting, there were two masking options presented.

The first would have required K-8 students and staff to wear a mask at all times other than while eating or drinking. The second proposal made masks optional with “thresholds in place to move to ‘masks required’ if necessary.”

The threshold mentioned would mean that Iredell County (where Mooresville is located) is deemed to have substantial or critical community spread under the state’s COVID-19 County Alert System. That system is controlled and updated by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

The only exception to the optional use of masks will be school buses, where all staff and students must wear one.

A statement was posted to the Mooresville district’s Facebook page the same night as the vote. The statement underscored when masks might have to be used again.

“If at any point the county or the schools meet certain thresholds as recommended by health officials, masking will be required either district wide, school specific, or for an individual classroom, depending on the situation, until the heightened danger passes and/or numbers show a decline,” the statement reads.

The school boards in districts of Anson, Brunswick, Cumberland and Durham have all voted to keep all students masked regardless of the change to the StrongSchools NC Toolkit or vaccination status.

Wake County, the state’s largest county, had previously voted to keep masks in place but may revisit the matter at an upcoming Aug. 3 school board meeting. A protest to make the masks optional is planned at the district’s headquarters in Cary.

About A.P. Dillon 494 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_