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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools To Require Masking As COVID Surges In NC

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools masks
Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board voted 8-1 Friday to require masks for all students, staff and volunteers in schools. Superintendent Earnest Winston said the mandate is the best way to control the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant and to minimize the need for quarantines.

"We believe this is the best way to make sure that our students get maximum in-person time this school year," he said. "We know in person is how most of our students learn best, and teaching and learning is our mission."

Board member Sean Strain cast the only “no” vote, after questioning whether the mandate really protects young children whose risk of serious illness is low. He said for children too young to be vaccinated, contracting a mild case of COVID-19 could prove beneficial.

"It's unfortunate that they contracted the disease," he said, "but if there's no serious illness and they have immunity, that's a good result."

Dr. Meg Sullivan, medical director for Mecklenburg County's health department, told the board that severe cases of COVID-19 may be rare among young children, but they do happen and can have long-lasting effects.

Opponents of the mask mandate brought signs to the meeting and occasionally shouted over speakers.

The board’s majority said they’re following advice from medical experts across the country — and from dozens of local pediatricians who wrote to them in the last few days urging them to require masks.

"It's been probably over 100 pediatricians that I have heard from that said, 'Please, please mask students. We want them to stay in school. That is the place for them,' " Margaret Marshall said.

Board member Ruby Jones, who was masked during the in-person meeting, said the mandate isn't just about children, but about protecting teachers and family members who could be endangered if children or employees bring the virus home.

"It's based on a collective valuing of everyone," Jones said. "I hate wearing this mask. I can't wait to get out of it. But I do it because I care about others. And I'm not selfish."

CMS joins eight other North Carolina school boards that have voted to require masks for students and staff. About two dozen others, including all the districts immediately surrounding Mecklenburg, have approved mask-optional plans.

CMS staff and board members noted that staff and students who consistently wear masks do not have to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure unless they show symptoms. And they said that unlike last year, there won't be a remote-learning option for students in quarantine.

"Safety is sacred, and also seat time in schools is sacred," board Chair Elyse Dashew said before voting for the mandate.

The state updated its school safety guidelines Thursday to match the CDC recommendation that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors. State rules posted last week said that in grades 9-12 only unvaccinated people should be required to wear masks.

Gov. Roy Cooper said he encouraged school districts to follow that updated guidance and hopes districts that have approved mask-optional policies will reconsider. But he stopped short of ordering them to require masks in classrooms. He said he hopes the districts that have approved mask-optional plans will reconsider in light of rising COVID-19 cases.

South Carolina lawmakers have forbidden local school districts to require masks in schools.

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Updated: July 30, 2021 at 12:23 PM EDT