RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Wake County School Board voted unanimously to mandate masks for the upcoming semester.
The mandate applies to Pre-K through 12th grade.
Wake County Public School System already had its year-round students in class and they are all wearing masks.
Dr. Michele Benoit Wilson, an OBGYN affiliated with WakeMed, showed up to the meeting with around 10 other female doctors in white coats.
"We work here, we have families here, we care about our community and we take care of patients and we know the devastating effect of this virus on our lives," Wilson said. "We know that masks work, because we've lived through this and we've taken care of patients who have tested positive for COVID."
"When you present evidence, when you present why evidence is worthwhile and the decisions are based on I couldn't tell you," Brendan McNamara, a Wake County dad who's against the masking policy. "So they went in the realm of recommendations versus evidence and I get peer pressure and that's what they seemed to submit to."
"This is about keeping kids in school, reducing the quarantine time and making sure our kids receive high-quality, in person instruction," said Lindsay Mahaffey.
Chair Keith Sutton said the board did not feel pressure from any outside board about what choice to make. Sutton also said the board will keep an eye on trends and reassess quarterly.
"This was a decision to make sure we can keep students, faculty and staff safe, minimize quarantines and exposure and keeping kids in school," said Chair Sutton.
A spokesperson for the school district previously told ABC11 that state law still mandated masks in schools. However, that was before Gov. Roy Cooper's executive order expired.
Now, the decision falls to each school district.
Before the board meeting on Tuesday, school members heard recommendations from the ABC Science Collaborative, which has helped multiple districts in the state with their decisions.
Their recommendations were to have universal masking in schools regardless of vaccination status.
And, experts still say the vaccine is the best form of protection for age groups in which it is available.
"The vaccine does work and we can see the vaccine prevents severe illness and death and if you look at those graphs that we're shown previously in our slides how significantly we've had a decrease in deaths across the county, the vaccine does work," said Wake County Epidemiology Program Director Dr. Nicole Mushonga.
North Carolina Pediatric Society (NCPeds) sent an open letter to all the school boards and superintendents in the state encouraging them to support in-person instruction as well as universal indoor mask mandates.
"As child health professionals, we know that in-person education is best for children's health. Being with other children and adults is important for social and emotional development and on-going mental health," NCPeds President Dr. Christoph Diasio said in the letter. "To best promote mental and physical health of our children, the N.C. Pediatric Society stands with the American Academy of Pediatrics to urge in-person schooling for children. The best way to achieve that at this time of the much more contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates is to require masks in all grade levels."
Click here to read the full letter for yourself.
For the past couple weeks, parents on both sides of the debate have been making their opinions known. There are even dueling petitions in circulation to try and rally support for each group.
As for the federal health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they said students should wear masks. The experts said the masks help reduce transmission of many viruses, such as COVID-19, and since vaccines are not mandatory (or even available for all students) masks are the most assured way to reduce the risk of anyone getting severely sick or worse.
The final decision comes down to the Wake County Board of Education.
As of Tuesday, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Durham, Cumberland, Hoke, Lee, Nash, Orange, and Wilson counties are requiring masks this year. Clinton City, Harnett and Johnston counties have made masks optional.