Cumberland County Schools to make masks optional for students, staff

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- In a 5-4 vote Tuesday evening, Cumberland County School Board members voted in favor of making masks optional beginning Feb. 16.

"When we were at our peak in December and January, it was a no-brainer to keep everybody masked up," said board chair Greg West.

The legislature requires school districts to discuss masking mandates monthly.

"We felt it was time the students be able to see their teacher's face. And each other's faces and smiles and all. It was more than just a public health decision," said West.

The decision comes as other school districts, most recently Johnston County Schools, made a decision to roll back the mask mandate.

"It's been 22 months and nobody could have predicted that we'd be here now. So we've tried to be nimble and react the best we see fit," added West.

According to the CDC, Cumberland County has seen 3,368 positive COVID-19 cases in the past seven days with a 33.6% positivity rate and fewer than 10 deaths.

"This is an irresponsible decision to remove these masks right now. And I'm just asking we reconsider this for the wellbeing of our people," said one board member during Tuesday's meeting.

Parents around the county have mixed feelings on the upcoming mask optional guidance.

"I feel like I understand where people are coming from that they're tired," said Christina Huddleston, whose child attends Glendale Acres Elementary School. "But I also understand that we have to protect the people who are immunocompromised. I feel like (COVID) is just going to spread, basically."

Anthony Garcia was in Glendale Acres' carpool lane and still plans on sending his son to school with a mask. However, "if he wants to take it off, that's on him," said Garcia.

"A lot of times my daughter if she has the option to take it off, she will," said parent Sarah Ellis. "I'm not afraid of coronavirus, the COVID. I'm not afraid of her getting it. She had it once and she was completely fine, she had no symptoms. I think everyone has an option and if the teachers are worried, they can continue to wear it."

One woman during Tuesday evening's meeting shouted several outbursts with her opposition to keeping masks mandatory.

"That's what your immune system is for," the woman shouted.

West threatened to have the woman escorted out if she continued interrupting.

West said the school will continue physical distancing, other protective measures, and per federal guidelines, expect children to continue masking on school buses. Cumberland County Schools will release additional guidance prior to next Wednesday's rollout.

He further commented that if numbers continue to climb, the conversation to make masks mandatory again will happen again.

"If we need to go back, we will," West said. "This is just peeling back one layer of the mandatory mask piece. So we wholeheartedly think the kids will be just as safe."
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