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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 board votes that masks can come off inside schools on March 7

Washington at CMS.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
Mecklenburg County Health Director Raynard Washington addresses the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board Tuesday as a crowd opposing mask mandates watches.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ mask mandate will end March 7, almost two years after the pandemic reached North Carolina.

With COVID-19 cases falling and districts across the state dropping their mask mandates, the only real debate was when CMS would do the same.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, Superintendent Earnest Winston recommended March 7, saying that allows time for schools to prepare for and communicate the change.

Board member Rhonda Cheek argued for Saturday, the day Mecklenburg County’s indoor mask mandate expires.

“We’ve got children that are going to be not wearing masks anywhere else but school,” she said. “So it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to say, ‘Just put it on when you’re there.’ ”

Cheek asked Mecklenburg County Health Director Raynard Washington whether there would be any public health impact from moving the date up.

“I don’t have a definitive yes or no or measurement of what the impact will be, but I do think it’s wise and it would be very informed for the school district to make sure that they have everything in place to do this before they make that transition,” Washington said.

Cheek’s motion to end the mandate Saturday failed 3-6. After that everyone voted for the March 7 date.

Winston emphasized that they end of the mandate does not mean everyone should stop wearing masks.

“Based on a consensus of infectious disease experts, it remains the recommendation that individuals wear masks when indoors,” he said. “There will be no tolerance for bullying or intimidation of those who choose to continue wearing masks.”

CMS mask signs.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
The audience at Tuesday's CMS board meeting included children carrying signs that described the drawbacks of wearing masks at school.

Board member Carol Sawyer put the question to Washington.

“If you were to spend a day in our schools, would you wear a mask?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I would love to spend a day in the schools and I would wear a mask. I will continue to wear one to work as well.”

Board member Margaret Marshall, who voted for the Saturday end date, said there’s one thing everyone can agree on: They’re glad to see the pandemic ebbing, almost two full years after it closed North Carolina’s schools.

“I’m knocking on wood that tonight’s decision is one of the last big pandemic decisions that we’re going to have to make,” she said.

Mask mandates are toppling across the state, including in North Carolina school districts. Wake County, the state’s largest district, voted Tuesday to end the mandate for extracurricular activities effective Friday evening and for classrooms March 7.

“It is possible that masks could become optional in schools sooner than March 7. However, that will depend on decisions made by the governor and General Assembly in the coming days,” the district’s notice says.

Guilford County, the state’s third largest district, voted Monday to end its mandate immediately.

The General Assembly last week approved a “free the smiles” bill that would allow parents to send their children to school unmasked in all public schools. It’s awaiting Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature or veto. If it becomes law it will also end the monthly mask votes currently required by state law.

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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.