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CMS board says it will consider lifting the school mask mandate after a county decision

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Geoff Palmer was among several speakers who urged the CMS board to stop requiring masks inside schools Tuesday.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board renewed its mask mandate Tuesday, just hours after the health director said the end of the county’s mandate may be near.

The school board had its monthly mask vote on the consent agenda, to be renewed with no discussion along with a dozen other matters. But board members Rhonda Cheek and Sean Strain, the two Republicans on the board, called for making it a separate action item with a public discussion.

Just a few hours earlier, Mecklenburg County health director Raynard Washington had told commissioners that if COVID-19 metrics keep declining he hopes to recommend lifting the county’s mandate as early as next week.

Cheek said the evidence increasingly points to making masks optional.

"Despite the indoor mask mandate, Mecklenburg County disease prevalence data is basically the same as the entire region," she said. "Most of the counties around us do not have mask mandates."

The board kept the mask vote on the consent agenda, but several members used their comment time to talk about how some teachers and families support mask mandates for safety.

"I speak to a lot of audiences in which children go home to their grandmoms who take care of them while parents are at work," said board member Ruby Jones. "And they are overwhelmingly saying they support masks."

Several people also used the public comment period to argue against the school mask mandate, with a couple of them comparing it to child abuse and torture. Members of the audience wore red ribbons and carried signs saying “Normalcy Now for Meck Kids.”

Board Chair Elyse Dashew said she looks forward to having a full discussion of lifting the mandate after the county makes its decision. "Until then it’s simply political posturing, which I don’t think we have time for," she said.

The countywide mandate includes schools. Even if commissioners vote next Tuesday to lift the mandate, it’s not clear when the change would take effect. The school board’s next meeting is in two weeks.

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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.