NC school leaders want law about monthly mask votes revisited

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Amid contentious school board meetings over masking policies, some school leaders want state lawmakers to revisit a new law that requires them to vote on masks every month.

That new requirement was part of a larger bill dealing with pandemic policies in schools that passed almost unanimously, and that Gov. Roy Cooper (D) signed into law late last month.

Leanne Winner, executive director of the NC School Boards Association, said some school board members are receiving death threats and the focus on the issue is making it harder for them to get other work done.

“And, we know of a few folks, a few superintendents, who are having police protection 24/7,” she said. “By no means do school boards want to try to hide and not engage with their public, but we just need to make sure it is done in a safe way.”

Since late July, state health officials have called for schools to require masks, given the surge in cases fueled by the delta variant.

However, the decision on whether to do that has been left to local school boards to make.

The NCSBA says all but three of the state’s 115 school districts require masks. Two more school boards have voted to go mask-optional in the coming weeks.

Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said he thinks the monthly vote on the issue keeps school boards from sticking to one plan indefinitely.

“I believe it’s a good idea to make sure that that process is done on a monthly basis. It allows parents, teachers, everyone else really, to have transparency,” he said. “We’ve left it up to the school boards to take whatever action deemed appropriate.”

During a meeting in Iredell County last week, some people banging on a door broke the glass as they protested masking requirements.

Other communities have seen more frequent protests regarding masks, though they’ve remained peaceful.

Winner suggested instead of having monthly votes that there should be benchmarks put in place at either the state or local level tied to the COVID-19 metrics that would trigger a vote on whether to change masking policies.

She said she doubts changing the law will do much to change the politics of masking, but voting on the issue less frequently may help ease the tension at board meetings.

“Because they are having to spend so much time on this one issue, they are not able to spend the time that they need to do on the important work school districts do,” she said. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen with the delta variant and whether there’s going to be another variant behind it that’s worse or not.”

Polling in North Carolina has shown most voters support requiring masks in schools, though there’s a significant partisan divide with Democrats more likely than Republicans to support that.

Among parents specifically, 54 percent support a mandate compared to 40 percent who oppose that, according to an August Civitas Poll released by the John Locke Foundation.

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