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CMS to require masks this school year

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted 8 to 1 to require masks in schools.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education met Friday to consider masking requirements for this upcoming school year. In a vote of 8-1, the board determined masks will be mandatory in schools this upcoming school year.

Dozens of parents were in attendance at the meeting. Some made signs with their stance; however, Friday's meeting did not have time for public comments. Some parents in attendance were frustrated, saying they felt they are "being muzzled twice" on the matter. 

"I hate wearing this mask. I can't wait to get it off, but I do it because I care about others, and I'm not selfish," Dr. Ruby Jones, who represents District 3 for the district, said while addressing the need for masking in classrooms. 

Board member Sean Strain, who represents District 6, was the only "no" vote.

"If we’re trying to solve a pandemic of the unvaccinated adults by imposing restrictions and restraints on our unvaccinated children and vaccinated children for that matter who are not at risk, I have an issue with it," Strain said.

On Thursday, WCNC Charlotte obtained a memo sent by Superintendent Earnest Winston recommending universal mask requirements for everyone inside the district. Winston cited new data from Mecklenburg County Public Health that shows increasing cases of COVID-19 in the county, along with other recommendations from the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the ABC Science Collaborative.

"Based upon current data in Mecklenburg County and the guidance cited above, the district’s senior leadership team, upon consultation with the District’s COVID-19 Response Team and MCPH, recommends approving universal face covering requirements for all students, staff, volunteers, and visitors inside CMS facilities for the 2021-2022 school year," reads the conclusion of Winston's memo. "Universal face covering requirements shall be reviewed at the end of each academic quarter or when local metrics and evolving guidance suggest that safety protocols, including using face coverings, should be revised."

Read the full memo below:

The memo came as North Carolina announced more than 3,000 new virus cases on Thursday. 

After the board meeting, some parents said they were planning to pull their children out of CMS. 

"We're working on setting up pods," Brooke Weiss said. "We're hiring teachers both full-time and part-time."

It comes as enrollment for the district is down over the past few school years. 

Enrollment data provided by CMS shows the following enrollment figures for the following school years: 

  • 2018-19: 147,352 enrolled students
  • 2019-20: 146,887 enrolled students
  • 2020-21: 140,073 enrolled students. 

The data shows nearly 6,800 students have unenrolled from the district within a single school year. 

Meg Kemp, whose two children attended CMS virtual learning last school year, unenrolled her kids and put them into private school for the upcoming academic year. 

"The constant back and forth, in school out of school, different teachers," Kemp said. "The constant moving of the goalposts," she added, describing the roller-coaster ride the 2020-21 school year was. 

"I cannot put my kids through this again," she added.

She understands it's a privilege to have her children enrolled in private school, but it will be a financial burden for the single mother. However, she believes it'll be worth it. 

"It's a burden on any family but I got to the point where I said, what can I sacrifice to give my kids the education that they deserve," Kemp said. 

So far, there are six counties that have decided to make masks optional for this upcoming school year: 

  • Caldwell
  • Iredell-Statesville
  • Union
  • Cabarrus (students will have to mask up when riding the bus)
  • Catawba (students will have to mask up when riding the bus) 
  • Lincoln

Many of these counties said they would reevaluate their decision if there are outbreaks in classrooms.

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At a briefing Thursday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said he encourages masks in K-12 public schools but would not be requiring them.

"These protocols can be put in place to help be able to keep children in school, which is critical," Cooper said ahead of the briefing Thursday. "These masks can prevent an outbreak in a school that would cause the school system to have to make a decision to send children home don’t want to do that."  

Cooper is also encouraging everyone, including those already vaccinated, to wear masks when indoors in public places.

RELATED: Cooper stops short of mask mandate, recommends masks for everyone indoors, including K-12 public schools

The Biden administration also recommends fully vaccinated people in areas with high transmission rates to wear masks indoors. 

On Thursday, both Cooper and Biden announced vaccinated recommendations for state and federal employees, respectfully. Employees who are not vaccinated will be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing.

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

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