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NC school districts considering votes on mask requirements as COVID cases rise

A 2021 state law requiring school boards to revisit their mask policy every month is no longer in effect.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — School districts in North Carolina are no longer required to vote on masking in schools monthly.  

A 2021 state law required school boards to revisit their mask policy monthly and vote on whether to modify the masking policy. The law expired last school year.

Despite these changes, with some exceptions, masks in schools continue to be in the hands of elected board members.

“If a county commission, for example, passed an ordinance that required masking indoors and indoor facilities and buildings and the like, then school districts within that county would be required to follow that county ordinance," Jonathan Vogel, a Charlotte-based education lawyer said. 

State law could also force districts to go back to masks. Although this is unlikely in North Carolina where the General Assembly gave local districts the power to vote individually on its mask mandates during the height of COVID-19.

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools started the process of removing its monthly obligation to vote on mask mandates last month at a June policy committee meeting. 

Since it’s a board policy they must vote to retire it. 

"Having the policy on the books means that should we come to a point where masks we need to make masks mandatory because of changes in public health," Carol Sawyer, a CMS board member and the policy committee chair said. "This would slow our response down."

Some CMS policy changes require readings and votes that can take weeks. 

Unless the policy is fast-tracked, this can only happen under certain circumstances. 

“Having a policy on the books would never restrict our ability to respond," Sean Strain, a CMS board member and member of the policy committee said, pushing back on Sawyer's comments. "We can respond as quickly as we choose to."  

Strain wanted to keep the policy in effect for clarity. 

“If ever the question were to arise if masks are optional or not," Strain said. "There's policies in place to state that it's the board's position that masks are optional in this district.” 

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Iredell-Statesville Schools has not voted to remove its policy mandating the monthly vote. They plan to talk about COVID-19 in an August meeting according to Boen Nutting, the Chief of Strategic Planning and Student Services. 

Other districts like Union County Public Schools, Catawba County Schools, Kannapolis City Schools, Cabarrus County Schools and Lincoln County Schools forged a formal board policy. 

Instead, the districts just voted monthly as required by state law. 

A Kannapolis City Schools spokesperson noted the district had no plans at the time to vote monthly on masking at schools. A Newton-Conover City Schools spokesperson said the same. 

The bottom line is whether the policy to vote every month stays or goes school boards can still vote on the topic whenever they choose.

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“School boards do have the authority that they've always had to make certain types of school district-wide decisions," Vogel said. 

CMS will have a final vote on removing the monthly vote policy before the next school year. It has already done its first reading. 

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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