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Iredell-Statesville school board votes 4-2 to mandate masks in schools

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and state health leaders have strongly encouraged masks in schools but haven't issued a mandate.

IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — The Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education voted 4-2 on Tuesday to make face masks mandatory in schools, reversing an earlier decision that made masks optional. The move comes in light of rising COVID-19 and quarantine numbers. 

The emergency meeting itself lasted roughly 20 minutes. The mandate will go into effect Thursday. 

East Iredell Middle School and North Iredell Middle School posted on Facebook this week to announce that masks will be mandatory for at least two weeks to help reduce the number of students who must quarantine. East Iredell Middle said masks will be required until Sept. 10 for all staff and students. North Iredell's requirement took effect Tuesday, Aug. 31, and will run for at least two weeks. Iredell-Statesville Schools confirmed that the superintendent has mandated masks at Lakeshore Middle School, North Iredell Middle School, North Iredell High School, East Iredell Middle and Agriculture Science Early College. 

An Iredell-Statesville Schools spokesperson said the superintendent has the power to mandate masks at specific locations, but the board of education reserves the right to mandate them across the entire district. 

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In July, the ISS board unanimously voted to keep masks optional during a previous emergency meeting. That vote came one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended masks be worn by everyone indoors, even if they're fully vaccinated. Under the policy, some situations would make masks mandatory, including a COVID-19 cluster in a school.

According to the CDC's COVID-19 data tracker, all 100 North Carolina counties have high community transmission. Iredell County's latest positivity rate was 14.87% with 968 active cases. The CDC reports that 45.9% of eligible adults in Iredell County are fully vaccinated. 

Parents at Lakeshore Elementary said it was less than four hours into the first day when they were notified about a positive case in a first-grade class.

"They sent him to school awaiting COVID results without a mask," Winchester said. "Parents can't be trusted to make good decisions, so again leadership has to mandate that these things happen."

One mom started a petition asking to require masks after her daughter's hospitalization with COVID-19 last November. Iredell-Statesville Schools said a survey of parents and staff showed that 52% wanted masks to remain optional, while 47% of those surveyed wanted a mask mandate. 

"I think making a decision off a survey, respectfully, is not a way to lead appropriately," said parent Jason Winchester. 

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and state health leaders have strongly encouraged masks in schools but haven't issued a mandate. Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the recommendation was made because most school-aged children are too young to be vaccinated at this time. 

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