Mask mandates updates : North Carolina parents could permit their students in grades K-12 to choose not to wear masks. Local education boards have set requirements in schools as part of a bill passed in the General Assembly on Thursday.
The bill is now on the table of the Democratic Governor. As the final vote was completed, Roy Cooper held a news event to urge local authorities -including education boards to eliminate the broad requirements for masks as the rate of transmission for COVID-19 and hospitalizations decrease.
“This (omicron) type is more infectious; however, it generally causes less severe illnesses, especially for those vaccinated- and booster. Now, everyone knows how to assess their risk level and then decide on the best method to safeguard their health,” Cooper said. The new health guidelines for schools will begin on March 7.
Cooper hasn’t said what he’d take on the opt-out proposal that came out of Republicans earlier at Raleigh this week to alter redistricting maps. However, he did say he has “concerns that it’s unwise and irresponsible.” Governor Cooper could block the measure, adopt it as law, or allow it to take effect without signing it.
“I mean, are we going to let people pick and choose which public health rules they will follow?” Cooper asked.
The Senate and House passed the bill with a slight margin of veto-proof, but several senators were absent. A few Democrats joined GOP legislators in supporting the bill.
Cooper stopped a state-wide mask law last summer; however, at the time, he strongly demanded that school districts accept policies that required masks indoors for both staff and students. In the end, the General Assembly later approved a law requiring districts to establish guidelines for masks this year and instruct school boards to approve these policies monthly.
The number of districts that have eliminated student and staff mask mandates has increased in recent weeks as the positive reports of cases have dropped. According to North Carolina School Boards Association, about half of the 115 districts have policies on masks.
Local governments are also getting rid of indoor-mask regulations. On Wednesday, Mecklenburg County, the state’s second-largest county, decided to end the mask policy in February. 26.
GOP officials declared it was the time for students to go to schools without masks if parents approve, and state guidelines on health recommending masks be worn have evolved into a requirement. They cited states around them, including, most recently, Virginia, which have been able to eliminate mask-wearing mandates.
This bill “is going to reaffirm the absolute right that parents should be the ones making these decisions for their children and not the government,” House Speaker Tim Moore said while presenting the bill to the committee on education.
Children have been faced with challenges to socialization and learning due to the requirement of wearing masks on their faces, bill supporters claimed. “Our youngest students are suffering under these mask mandates,” said Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga County Republican.
Legislative Democrats claimed that they believed their GOP colleagues were pushing the bill, even though it was expected that almost all districts would soon make masking an option.
“I don’t think it needs to set up a situation that confuses parents,” Democratic Rep. Graig Meyer of Orange County told Moore. “It needs to set up a situation that creates clarity for folks to understand what’s happening.”
The state’s largest lobbying group for teachers opposed the idea. The proposal “undermines local decision-making and prioritizes partisan politics over public health and safety,” North Carolina Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly said in the release.
The legislation would also be clear that students without masks cannot be treated differently from students who wear face masks. The school board’s monthly voting on face mask policies will be eliminated.