Johnston County School Board votes 4-3 to keep mask mandate in place

Johnston County News

SMITHFIELD, N.C. (WNCN) — The Johnston County Board of Education voted Monday afternoon to continue to require masks in schools.

The board met virtually at 2 p.m. to vote on the mask mandate. The board voted 4-3 to keep the mandate in place.

“We should continue the mask mandate policy as already approved, based on information we have received at our meeting with our chief medical officer, and continue on until the data gets better,” said Kay Carroll, a board member.

Chair Todd Sutton, Michael Wooten and Ronald Johnson voted to remove the mandate.

Despite another protest made up of a small group of parents opposing the mask mandate on a street corner, face coverings will continue to be mandatory in schools.

It’s something that other parents told CBS 17 they were hoping to hear.

“It’s the safest choice for the children and the educators,” said parent Erika Hall.

After a year and a half of making these tough decisions, Johnston County Schools leaders came up with some ideas on how they can all move forward.

“We certainly are willing to look at meeting with Dr. [Marily] Pearson and Dr. [David] Pearce, and any other personnel relevant to look at [COVID] metrics in the county,” suggested board member Lyn Andrews. “I believe it’s vitally important in the spirit of transparency that we have it established, so parents know what that looks like and give them some hope that this is not forever.”

The new committee that will meet and discuss COVID data in the county, will be formed soon. It will comprise of Andrews, who supports wearing masks in class, and Ronald Johnson, who supports face-covering choice.

Johnson had some ideas of his own.

“You [could] have elementary school A [and] if you choose not to wear a mask, that isn’t right for your family, we’re going to have that site available,” he explained. “If you are an employee of Johnston County schools and you don’t want to wear a mask.. we’re going to play matchmaker here.”

Johnson admitted it would be a lot of logistical work to have each campus have its own rules about face coverings, but he said things can’t continue in the same way.

“It’s a burden. But you know, a year and a half ago we didn’t know how long [the pandemic] was going to go. I don’t see an end in sight. We’ve got to come up with some plans to accommodate people,” he added.

There are 47 schools in Johnston County’s district.

Some board members expressed some concerns with how they could implement different schools having different rules.

However, the idea is something that several board members indicated they would want to investigate more, in the future.

Monday’s vote comes after the Sept. 14 vote was postponed because a board member was unable to attend the meeting.

Dozens of protesters gathered outside last week’s school board meeting ahead of the scheduled mask mandate vote.

Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who represents North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District that covers nearly all of Western North Carolina, was one of those in attendance at the protest.

The congressman spoke with CBS 17 before the board meeting. He said he wasn’t opposed to masks, but believed it should be left up to the parents to decide.

“I think we all need to make our own personal risk assessment,” Cawthorn said. “None of these parents behind me signed up to co-parent with the government.”

He said he was asked to attend the rally and subsequent board meeting by a group of parents.

When asked what he would say to concerned teachers, Cawthorn said he would “highly recommend they wear a mask.”

Although Cawthorn said he would recommend masks for some teachers, he also said that masks have “muzzled” America’s children.

“Our children have been muzzled, forced to grow up in a world where their emotions are hidden and their voices are smothered,” Cawthorn said.

Not every person outside last week’s school board meeting was in support of revoking the mandate.

“Every single child deserves the chance to go to school and to be safe in that school. Unmasking our children opens the door to clusters that will close our schools,” parent Kelly Kasparov said.

Parents will once again be watching the vote very closely today.

A new state law requires every school district that currently has a mask mandate in place to vote every month on whether to keep it or lift it.

On July 29, the school board voted to make masks optional. Two weeks later, the board reversed their decision and put a mask mandate into effect.

More than a month after reversing course, the board will again make a decision on the mandate.

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