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Education secretary visits Charlotte after CDC issues new mask guidance

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited just days after the CDC issued new guidance on masks in schools for fully vaccinated students and staff.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited Johnson C. Smith University and Paw Creek Elementary School in Charlotte Monday to learn about summer school initiatives in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district. 

During Monday's visit, Cardona and Rep. Alma Adams participated in a roundtable with Johnson C. Smith students and education leaders. Cardona discussed the Build Back Better agenda, which includes $45 billion in investments for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Johnson C. Smith.

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Cardona and Adams then headed to Paw Creek Elementary to tour the Camp CMS program and learn about instruction programs offered to students with exceptional needs. 

While there, they met with several students with disabilities and their parents. They learned what worked for their students and what didn't during the pandemic. 

"I know that with strong leadership and the resources that we're not only going to be able to come back but be stronger and have a better program when they (students) come back," he said. 

Cardona's visit comes just a few days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance for schools that states fully vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks. Last month, North Carolina lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow districts to set their own individual mask mandates. Currently, North Carolina requires everyone 5 years and older to wear a mask inside public school buildings.

Cardona said he recommends school districts set those rules based on health officials in the area or region. 

"They're the health experts, it's a health pandemic, I'm going to lean on their guidance to be sure we can open safely and quickly," he said. "I also think to help build confidence, we have to make sure we're listening to our families as well."

Parents are divided on whether masks should be mandated or an option this school year. 

"I don't think that we should tie the masks to the vaccine. I don't think it's one or the other," said Jennifer Rea, who created a petition asking for leaders to make masks optional

"We're not there, where we need to be -- to be doing these things anymore or forcing them on people," she said noting she believes mandates should be based on the local amount of COVID cases. 

But other parents disagree.

"I think they should stay wearing masks for their safety cause COVID's still out here," said another parent. 

RELATED: School districts face big decisions as CDC eases mask mandates for students

The COVID-19 vaccine is only available for children ages 12 & older. According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), 50% of children older than 12 are fully vaccinated in North Carolina.  

Union County Public Schools is scheduled to vote on its mask requirements on Tuesday, July 13. 

RELATED: What South Carolina schools could look like this fall

Contact Hunter Sáenz at hsaenz@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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