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Union County school board unanimously passes optional masks for students

New guidance from the CDC states fully vaccinated students and teachers don't need masks in schools. Currently, only students 12 and older can get vaccinated.

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — The Union County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to make masks optional for students inside the classroom and on buses this upcoming school year. 

The 9-0 vote comes less than a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance that said fully vaccinated students and teachers don't need face coverings in school. Last school year, North Carolina required everyone 5 years of age and older to wear a mask in schools. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine is only available for children 12 and older.

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Supporters of mask requirements said the discrepancy among which students are eligible for vaccination may put other students and teachers at risk, particularly those with pre-existing conditions. 

"A vote to make masks optional is a vote against our medically fragile children," said Justine Libby, a Union County parent. 

"Putting unvaccinated people together in the same crowded spaces and doors puts students and staff at risk," added Elena Brown, a Union County parent and teacher. 

She said her child suffers from asthma, and not having masks required for a massive amount of students who are not vaccinated will put her child at risk. 

However, a majority of parents who spoke out at the meeting on Tuesday evening wanted masks to be optional. 

"Kindergarteners and first graders need to see their teachers' mouths move for the simple reasons,"  said Casey Eich, another parent. "They need to see their facial expressions and their smiles." 

Some parents and students said masks made it hard to breathe or learn needed lessons on reading, speech, and pronunciation when learning a new language. 

RELATED: NC COVID-19 study on schools finds masking important, social distancing & quarantine less useful when masking

Union County will not provide a virtual option for families who are not ready to send their children to school in person.

The move comes one day after the Rowan-Salisbury School System voted 5-2 to make its mask policy for students optional as well. 

RELATED: NC needs to see 3 things before lifting mask mandates in schools

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