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Gaston County Schools makes masks optional

A 9-0 vote means students will not be required to mask up on campus.

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Yet another school district in the Charlotte area has opted to let students decide whether or not to mask up for the 2021-22 school year.

The Gaston County Schools board voted 9-0 during a meeting Tuesday night, making them the latest district to make the choice. This decision goes against current recommendations from the office of Gov. Roy Cooper, which are at this point still less strict than current guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The federal-level guidance suggests all students in grades K-12 wear masks on campus.

The decision came after an overwhelming outcry from parents who turned out to the meeting, demanding that it be them who decide what their children do. 

"We are saying clearly tonight, no mask requirement for students in Gaston County," one parent said. 

Parents were worried about the suppressed freedom they'd have to deal with if the board voted to mandate masks.

"If a student needs signed consent to give my child a Tylenol at school, how can you mask my child without my consent," one parent asked. 

Many showed up with signs that read, "No mask, vaccine kills, parents choice."

Other parents read from prepared statements that spewed baseless claims. 

"Masking children causes mental instability, depression, social isolation," another parent said to the laughs of others behind her. 

This week already, most school boards elected for a mask-optional policy. So far, only Anson County Schools will require masks in classrooms across grades K-12. Catawba County Schools has a mask-optional approach in classrooms, but they will be required for students and staff on school buses to comply with the federal mandate.

"I think every kid in America should probably wear the mask just to be safe," Elijah Woolard, 10, said. "You'd rather be safe than sorry."

Pam Miller heads the Gaston County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, and she said most teachers want masks to be required.

"There are a lot of parents, particularly parents in the medical field, that say that that's really the best option especially to have our kids in school full-time," Miller said.

Parents and grandparents disagree on what the county school board should decide.

"I think it should be by choice," Melissa Norman said. "I have an ADHD kid so he fidgets with everything. So he'd be pulling it off and won't be leaving it on."

"I think they should wear masks," James Gregory said. "It's a new strain coming out, and they don't know what's going on."

According to Gaston County's latest numbers, three out of five residents still haven't gotten a vaccine, and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests has spiked to more than one out of 10 people, which is the first time it's hit that level since the winter.

Beyond Tuesday's meeting, board members for districts in Avery and Burke counties will have similar discussions on Thursday. Hickory Public Schools told WCNC Charlotte they will make a decision by or on Aug. 9, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will meet Friday, July 30 to discuss the issue.

Contact Brandon Golder at bgoldner@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

PREVIOUSLY: Schools in Charlotte-area district make masks adjustments for upcoming school year for students, staff

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