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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

CMS Superintendent Recommends Mask Mandate To Prevent COVID-19 Spread

CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston visits a school Feb. 15, 2021.
Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston visits a school Feb. 15, 2021.

Superintendent Earnest Winston notified Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members Thursday that he will recommend mandatory masks at all grade levels when classes begin Aug. 25.

The school board meets at 9 a.m. Friday to review and vote on his plan. Winston's memo says the face coverings are needed to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant. He says he is following advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris.

Gov. Roy Cooper is scheduled to provide an update on COVID-19 at 3 p.m. today. Last week he announced he would not extend the mask mandate, which expires Friday, but strongly urged schools to require masks for everyone in grades K-8 and for unvaccinated people in grades 9-12.

Since then more than two dozen school boards — including most of the ones surrounding Mecklenburg County — have voted to make masks optional. If the CMS board approves Winston's plan, the district would join a smaller number requiring masks at all grade levels. Those include Anson, Guilford, Winston Salem-Forsyth County and Durham, according to the North Carolina School Boards Association tally.

Health officials say universal use of face coverings will reduce the risk of school spread and the need for quarantines and closings when cases occur.

"We will probably need to quarantine a greater number of people," Boen Nutting, a top administrator in Iredell-Statesville Schools, told that board before it approved a mask-optional plan Wednesday. She said the lack of consistent mask use also has "potential to cause more classroom and school closures, potential spread, potential illness, and we may need to institute remote learning for those that are quarantined."

Members of the ISS board, like many others, said they are willing to make that tradeoff to provide the parent choice that many constituents are demanding.

The CMS plan, like the mask-optional plans, calls for reviewing and potentially revising strategies as circumstances change.

"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," Winston's memo says.

Updated: July 29, 2021 at 12:30 PM EDT
Updated at 12:30 p.m.
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.