County school boards rebel against K-12 mask mandates

RALEIGH — At a meeting on July 12, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board voted to make masks optional for all students, staff and visitors.

The measure passed by a 5-2 vote. Chair Kevin Jones, along with members Travis Allen, Susan Cox, Dean Hunter and Brian Hightower voted in favor while Vice-Chair Alisha Byrd-Clark and member Jean Kennedy voted against.

“I’m willing to take that opportunity to make an example to the rest of the school boards in the state,” Allen said of the vote to make masks optional.

A second motion was passed by the Rowan board in support of the General Assembly’s Senate Bill 173, the Free the Smiles Act,” which as currently written would give districts the power to make masks optional.

Legislators established a conference committee to hammer out language regarding mask options in schools for the upcoming school year after the Senate failed to concur with changes made by the House. One of the reasons concurrence failed was that the Senate wants to add language about vaccinations to the bill, Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) told North State Journal.

On the House side, the conference committee includes Reps. David Willis (R-Union), Kristin Baker (R-Cabarrus), John Torbett (R-Gaston), and Shelly Willingham (D-Edgecombe). Willis will be the chair. From the Senate, Sens. Bill Rabon (R-Bladen), Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), Deanna Ballard (R-Watauga), and Kirk deViere (D-Cumberland) will sit on the committee. Rabon will act as chair.

Three other district school boards have passed motions or resolutions similar to that of Rowan’s.

The Union County school board passed a resolution on June 1 requesting that “Governor Roy Cooper immediately rescind his executive orders regarding mask wearing in schools” and that Cooper direct the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to update its NC Strong Schools toolkit accordingly.

In Harnett County, at its June 7 meeting, the board voted four to one in favor of making masks optional for summer school, signaling a possibility for similar action for the upcoming school year.

On June 21, the Haywood County school board unanimously passed a motion opposing the state’s current mask mandate for public schools. That motion also directed the school administration to “develop procedures to comply with the mandate but lessen the negative impact by encouraging and implementing social distancing and outdoor instruction pursuant to Tool Kit guidelines.”

On July 19, the Randolph County school board unanimously passed a resolution ending mask enforcement. The new board policy cites CDC guidance and the board’s concern for individuals’ rights to make decisions regarding their own personal health in making the change. The resolution also said harassment, discrimination, bullying, or intimidation based a person’s decision to wear or not wear a mask would not be tolerated.

Private school Thales Academy has made masks optional next school year for all students and school employees as well as visitors.

Parents in Wake County are also mobilizing in an effort to remove masks from their children this fall.

Dr. Tracy Taylor of Raleigh calls the granting of privileges to the vaccinated over the unvaccinated “medical discrimination” that creates an “opportunity for other students, staff, and admin to bully those who are wearing masks about the vaccine.”

“It essentially puts a target on their back when students are the least at-risk cohort,” Taylor said, adding that some students, staff, and admin may not be able to get the vaccine.

By A.P. Dillon