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'They're not leaving us with options' | Parents of medically fragile students face choice after 'mask optional' vote in Union County

Union County school leaders voted that masks will be optional for the coming school year. Some parents say their kids will be excluded from school because of it.

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Parents of medically fragile children will soon be forced to make a risky decision: send their children to school where masks are optional, or find another option for their education. 

"It's going to put a huge hardship on our family," said Elena Brown, a Union County parent whose 9-year-old son attends public school in the county. 

On Tuesday, Union County school board members voted unanimously to make masks optional inside schools regardless if students are vaccinated or not, going against CDC guidance. 

RELATED: Union County school board unanimously passes optional masks for students

"They sent the message that medically fragile children don't matter," Brown said. 

She explained that the decision will put her son, who is ineligible to receive a vaccine and suffers from severe asthma, at risk.

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"While I realized that he could be okay if he got it and recover fine, there's a big chance that he might not and that's just not a risk that I can take with him," she said. 

Union County Public Schools are not offering virtual options, forcing Brown and other parents of medically fragile students to make a tough decision. 

"We are going to have to either send our children into unsafe situations, or we will have to suffer financially and career-wise because we're gonna have to take a leave from our jobs to homeschool," Brown said. 

A Union County teacher herself, Brown doesn't know the district's plans for taking leave in a situation like hers, but she knows what she has to do to keep her child safe. 

"They're really not leaving parents like myself, which there are many of us -- they're not leaving us with options," she said. 

Brown is hopeful Gov. Roy Cooper will make a mask mandate in schools for this coming school year -- at least until all students are eligible for a vaccine. 

Cooper said Tuesday his decision on the matter is coming "soon." 

RELATED: Gov. Cooper addresses return to school plans as districts consider mask requirements

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are moving a bill through that's called the "Free the Smiles Act." It would end the governor's mask mandate for schools and give the power to school districts to decide for themselves. 

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

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