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Monthly NC School Board Votes On Face Masks Stay In Place

Norma Mortenson

Republicans at the North Carolina legislature have turned back efforts to repeal a new law that requires local school districts to vote regularly on face masks, a measure that critics say has contributed to some raucous board meetings.

The House on Wednesday rejected an amendment to an education bill that would have scaled back the law, which demands that district and charter school boards vote at least once a month on whether their face covering policy for students and staff should be modified.

The mandate took effect in late August. There have been rallies by parents and like-minded politicians opposing boards that have approved mandatory masking. Nearly all of the state's 115 school districts have agreed to require face coverings in some form, in deference to a state policy urging mask use to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Wednesday's amendment would have required that mask-policy votes occur at times based on criteria the school boards set using COVID-19 statistics in the area. But it wouldn't prevent the boards from voting more frequently if they chose to.

“These school board meetings are getting more and more contentious. And in an interest of public safety, I think this amendment is a good one,” said Democratic Rep. Amos Quick, a former Guilford County Board of Education member. “When we don’t have anything to vote on, we don’t come from all around the state to meet here in Raleigh. Let’s give our school boards and our parents the same luxury.”

Republicans pushed back against the change, saying it would allow school boards to decide not to act on the policy without public input or scrutiny.

“I certainly don’t want to encourage or condone any kind of violence that some people seem to think is going to occur,” said Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican, before the amendment failed 41-51. “For the parents to have more opportunity to tell the school board just what they think about it is a good thing, not a bad thing.”

The North Carolina School Boards Association wrote legislators last week asking that the monthly vote mandate be replaced with a procedure very similar to what was in Wednesday’s amendment. It also failed to pass in a House committee Tuesday evening.

The provision sought to be retooled was within a broader coronavirus education bill approved by a near unanimous margin and signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Last week, Cooper lamented what he called threats, bullying and intimidation at recent school board meetings.

“Remember, our children are watching,” he said.

Leaders of the State Board of Education and schools Superintendent Catherine Truitt released a statement Tuesday pleading with residents to respect each other and turn down the volume. They didn't address whether the local school board voting law should be repealed or modified.

“Every one of us has a responsibility to instill in our children First Amendment rights and responsibilities, but we have an even greater responsibility to model good behavior while doing so,” the statement read.

As of late last week, 109 school districts required masks, while the remaining six made them optional or had agreed to make them optional in the coming days, according to the school boards association.

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