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'I was surprised, but I was excited' | Parents split after Gaston County Schools board votes to extend mask mandate

The school board will review their face covering policy again at their October meeting.

GASTONIA, N.C. — Gaston County Schools' Board of Education voted 6-3 in favor of continuing to require students, faculty and staff members to wear masks in school buildings.

The vote came as parents packed the board's meeting room, and several people spoke before the board in an attempt to sway members' votes.

"I was excited -- I was surprised, but I was excited," Fae Pagan, a parent of two students, said. "I didn't know what to expect, but the atmosphere just didn't feel like things were going to go our way."

She said there were several people outside the meeting with signs protesting the mask requirement, and several parents and grandparents also spoke out against the mandate.

"Choice should always be available to every citizen of the United States and that includes our children," Gastonia resident Lisa Rebaglia said at the meeting.

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"My grandkids do not like the mask on their faces," Rick Gass, a Mount Holly grandfather, said at the meeting. "They're having a hard time learning with them on." 

Despite the division, proponents and opponents of the mandate echoed a similar goal: to keep students in classrooms and not go back to virtual learning.

RELATED: LIST: K-12 schools in Charlotte-area districts mask, vaccine and remote learning decisions

Pagan feels the best way to do that is by requiring masks.

"My son has a learning delay. It's possible for him to be virtual, but it's not best," Pagan said. "We have to keep the kids in school. Everyone was complaining about them being virtual, but masks keep kids in school."

Steve Eaton, Gaston County's public health director, told the board that the county's COVID-19 numbers appeared to be plateauing, but they remained too high. 

Eaton said the number of children in the county with COVID-19 reached its highest level of the year two weeks ago, but it's starting to drop.

"This is an encouraging sign that we're seeing a decrease from last week, but again, remains extremely high," Eaton said.

He said between Aug. 15 to Sept. 15, 2020, about five children tested positive each day for the COVID-19, whereas during the same time period this year, nearly 49 children have tested positive each day.

RELATED: COVID-19 cases among children in the Charlotte area are spiking. Here’s how your county is doing

According to Eaton, only 25% of Gaston County children aged 12 to 17 got their vaccine, whereas 38% of all North Carolinians aged 12 to 17 got their vaccine.

Gaston County's school board will review their mask policy again at their Oct. 18, 2021 meeting.

Contact Brandon Golder at bgoldner@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.