Several area school districts voted on COVID-19 mask requirements for students, staff

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Here's the latest news and information on COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines.

10:45 p.m.

As more states and school districts, nationwide, put pressure on the CDC to update its guidance about universal masking in schools, a growing number of school systems here in the Triangle area are choosing not to wait on CDC or state health recommendations to change. They voted to drop the masks at schools now rather than later.

It did not take long to figure out which way the vote was going Monday night in Moore County. Even before taking a vote about masks in schools, the school board members, long fed up with mandated mask-wearing, passed a motion to make masks optional at the meeting.

Several board members ripped their masks off minutes before they voted 6-1 in favor of ending Moore's mask mandate for students and staff -- effective immediately. Masks are now optional only.

In Edgecombe County, every resident who rose to speak on Monday night urged the school board to ditch the mask mandate.

"All I ask tonight is that you give my children, their friends and this community their normal back," one mother said.

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The school mask wars are heating up as several school boards across central NC held votes on whether to continue with face-covering policies.



Another Edgecombe mom added, "If parents want to send their kids to schools in masks, so be it. I don't care. But let me decide what I want; what's best for my child."

Edgecombe's board of education voted to keep the mandate in place. The panel pledged to revisit the issue again in two weeks.



Monday's most-decisive vote came at the Johnston County school board meeting.

"At this time I'd like to make a motion that we move to a mask-optional setting," said board member Mike Wooten.

The board voted unanimously to make masks optional for all students and staff, dropping a stipulation that less than 4% of teachers and students test positive for COVID-19 before ditching the masks.

And at the Chatham County school board meeting, Monday, the panel voted to keep its mandate in place -- opting to begin a gradual transition to optional masking. The optional mask policy starts with student-athletes at sporting events.

Chatham's school board says it will take up masks in the classroom at a meeting somewhere around March 7.

ABC11 discussed the school mask wars, Monday night, with UNC infectious disease professor Dr. David Wohl.

"Fortunately, we can even start having this as a rational conversation," said Wohl, pleased with the downward slope of the Omicron surge but wary of ditching the masks before hitting benchmark lows for COVID transmission.

"It's really just a matter of timing. So some states are saying, we're going to stop at the end of March, some states in the middle of March. Some are jumping the gun a little bit and stopping now," Wohl said. "I think we're close. And I think in another month or two this will be in our rearview mirror and we won't care."

-- ABC11's Joel Brown reported.

8:58 p.m.
The Chatham County Board of Education voted Monday to begin a gradual transition to an optional masking policy.

In the first stage, effective Tuesday, the school district will no longer require athletes to wear masks during sporting events. That proposal passed by a 5-0 vote.

By a 3-2 vote, the district approved a transition to optional masking in the classroom and CCS facilities. But that won't begin until on or around March 7.

"Staff and students who want to continue to mask are welcome to do so," said Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson. "But we recognize others in the community want the option of removing the mask, and we believe it is now time to offer that choice. We do this with the understanding that the risk now shifts from district mitigation to individual responsibility."

The board will have a called meeting before March 7 to "review data available and affirm and authorize next steps."

"Numbers have been trending in the right direction," said Board Chairman Gary Leonard. "We believe as more people have gotten vaccinated and their boosters, as well as nearing the end of winter, we can provide our staff and students with the choice of whether they want to wear a mask or not."

The district said it will continue to monitor infection rates and will make policy adjustments accordingly.

"We work closely with our local Health Department to see how the community is faring with COVID-19," Leonard said. "We will continue to have those conversations with the department and look to it for guidance."

8:22 p.m.
The Edgecombe County School Board voted to keep the current mask mandate in place.

The school board plans to meet again in two weeks to revisit the mask-mandate policy.

7:42 p.m.
The Moore County School Board has just voted to make face masks optional effective immediately.

6:43 p.m.
The Moore County School Board voted 4-3 to make its Tuesday night board meeting mask-optional.

The decision was met with applause and several board members ripped their masks off their faces.

An amendment was also made in the meeting to vote on the mask mandate prior to listening to public comment. There were more than 30 people scheduled to speak. That amendment passed.

4:50 p.m.
Heading into Monday afternoon's school board meeting, many parents in Johnston County were prepping for their children to begin attending school under a mask-optional mandate beginning Feb. 21.

However, during the meeting, Johnston County Schools board member Mike Wooten made a motion to move to mask optional "without stipulation" starting next Monday.

That motion passed with a majority.

Here's how Johnston County fared with COVID-19 in the past 14 days:
  • 2,243 cases in the last 14 days
  • 1,071 cases per 100k people
  • 12,603 tests in the last 14 days
  • 29.1% positive
  • 490 child cases in the last 2 weeks
  • There was 1 outbreak in the last K-12 report with 7 cases in children and 1 in staff


"Forget all the other parents that run around here and say their kids shouldn't be wearing a mask," said Cleveland Middle School parent Shawn Washington. Someone, right now, today doesn't know if their kid sick or not. And they quick to send their kid to school about it."

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"I think the optional ability gives people the freedom we all deserve," one parent said.



Other parents chimed in as well.

"I think the optional ability gives people the freedom we all deserve," said parent Lynn Hellman. "Give (parents) the freedom to choose whether or not you want your kid to be masked or you don't want your kid to be masked. People who feel strongly about it will mask their kids. People who don't won't mask their kids."

Moore, Chatham, Edgecombe, Northampton, and Franklin counties are all meeting Monday evening to discuss how best to move forward with a mask mandate on their district campuses.

The state legislature requires school boards to bring up mask mandates monthly.

"I can tell you just from watching -- I can tell you half of them are not wearing this mask correctly," said another parent who only identified herself as "Tammy". And I think studies have kind of shown these little cotton masks aren't preventing much."

Washington said: "If you make it optional, you'll see a lot of teachers, a lot of kids who don't wear the mask. And eventually, you'll have an outbreak which will lead to kids carrying it home, teachers carrying it home to their families, their loved ones. You're still going to have an issue with it."

Students and staff will continue to be required to wear face masks on all buses and other school transportation.

-- ABC11's DeJuan Hoggard reported.

MONDAY MORNING HEADLINES
Five school districts will weigh in on the future of mask mandates for students and staff members today.

School boards in Chatham, Moore, Edgecombe, Northampton and Franklin counties all are scheduled to meet Monday.

Johnston County Board of Education is also meeting Monday to discuss recent changes to NCDHHS' COVID-19 guidance for schools.

The meeting is scheduled virtually for 4 p.m. NCDHHS is no longer recommending contact tracing in schools and relaxed quarantining guidelines for asymptomatic people exposed to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Cumberland County Schools are set to make masks optional Wednesday. Plus, officials with Lee County Schools are set to meet Thursday to talk about their mask policy.
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