Harnett County votes to make masks optional as 1,400+ students, staff quarantined due to COVID-19

COVID-19 and schools

LILLINGTON, N.C. (WNCN) – Harnett County Schools will adopt an optional mask policy beginning next month. The motion passed on a 3-2 vote during Monday’s school board meeting.

The decision came as Harnett County has experienced more than 220 COVID-19 cases and more than 1,400 students and staff are in quarantine.

Dozens of parents protested the mask mandate before the meeting.

“It’s parent’s responsibility to do with their kids as they see fit, not what the state tells us to do or the county. Parent’s choice, masks optional,” Nathan Weidner said.

The district had originally opted to make masks optional in August, but then reversed course and approved a mask mandate. The board voted 3-2 in that decision.

“Are we going to allow the government to keep stomping our backs, stomping on our heads, to achieve what they want, because you know we can’t trust them,” said the board’s Vice Chairman Don R. Godfrey.

Some board members who voted in favor of making masks optional pointed to the ability to go remote and PCR tests as reasons.

Board member Vivian Bennett voted to keep the requirement. She cited the county’s vaccination rate as a concern.

According to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services, 33 percent of Harnett County is fully vaccinated. That is one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state.

Most parents at the meeting were in favor of optional masks, but some, including Jihan McLean, want the requirement to continue.

“I have children of my own. I don’t want anybody coming home, getting sick, and then me and my family are sick due to what they were exposed to at school,” McLean said.

Masks were a hot-button issue around central North Carolina on Monday. Moore County canceled its school board meeting in which it planned to revisit its mask mandate. Orange County was considering suspending some sports temporarily due to the virus.

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