Crowd shows up to Johnston County school board meeting for mask discussion; vote to happen next week

Josh Chapin Image
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Crowd shows up to Johnston Co. School Board meeting for mask debate
The board will vote on its mask requirement next week.

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WTVD) -- Hundreds marched to the Johnston County School District Headquarters ahead of a school board meeting where board members were set to discuss mask protocols.

The Johnston County school board was initially going to make a decision on whether to continue requiring face masks in schools. However, the vote was delayed due to a death in the family of a chairwoman.

The board will revisit the mask vote next Monday.

At least 100 people were set up outside the building around 5 p.m. listening to speakers.

One of those speakers was U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn -- a vocal opponent of required masking.

Ahead of the meeting, some people gathered at a restaurant down the road on US 70 business. They were joined by Cawthorn.

They walked the short distance to the Board of Education to hold a rally on the lawn.

COVID cases in kids reach alarming new heights, with a 240% increase since July, data shows

To be in attendance, Cawthorn had to go more than 300 miles away from his Congressional district.

He said he was asked by parent organizers to be there. He also said his goal is to speak at every school board in the state in the next year to try and drum up more interest in school boards and elections.

"We should actually start having people be able to make the choice for their children if they want to wear a mask or not," said Cawthorn. "None of these parents behind me actually signed up to co-parent with the government and they should be allowed to make decisions that affect their own children."

The CDC still recommends students older than 2 wear masks in school to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

One parent told ABC11 she pulled her child out of the school because of the mandate.

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"I'll come speak every month," Cara Chester said. "I've spoken for the last five months. I'm not going to give up until we win."

"We have to really think about what is best for the entirety of school all of school because if one kid gets COVID with masks optional...every kid within six feet of that child has to be quarantined," said teacher Jeanie Aday. "That's just going to quadruple the amount of quarantines we have."

Governor Roy Cooper did not extend the order that was in place last year that required schools at a state level to mandate mask wearing. Now, the decision is being left up to individual school districts. However, a new law does require school boards to vote monthly on their masking policies.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends students older than 2 wear masks in school to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, which is now infecting children at higher rates than ever before seen.

Last week, the U.S. reported more than 243,000 child COVID-19 cases, marking the second largest number of pediatric cases in a week since the pandemic began.

Dr. Rodney McCaskill, the Chief Medical Officer at Johnston Health, spoke at the board meeting on Tuesday.

He said the hospital's protocols are proof that vaccinations and masking work.

According to McCaskill, since last March, only six employees have caught the virus from patients, even though they are regularly exposed to COVID-19.

"COVID does not discriminate it has forever changed the lives of countless Americans--some healthy, some with chronic illnesses," said Kelly Kaspar, mother of four. "We as true patriots are willing to do whatever it takes to keep all our children from harm. Every single child deserves to go to school and be safe in that school. Unmasking our children opens the door for clusters that would close."

Princeton High School junior Jillian Malham is against the mandate.

"Let people choose whether or not they want to wear it and if people are worried about getting sick, let them have the option to wear a mask at school," said Malham.

On Monday, parents who oppose mask mandates met ahead of the Harnett County School Board's meeting.

That board voted 3-2 to make masks optional starting October 5.

The Orange County School Board also met Monday. However, it took more steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 among its students.

The district talked about shutting down some high school sports for a couple weeks, but ultimately did not move forward with that. Instead, it approved limitations on fans: each athlete can have 2 spectators and all fans must wear masks.

All athletes, regardless of vaccination status, must also wear masks on and off the field.

In addition, Orange County Schools is requiring all staff to be vaccinated by September 23.