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Union Co. school board chair says masks to remain optional for all despite governor’s recommendation

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 9:41 PM EDT
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UNION COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Despite recommendations from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and state health officials, masks and face coverings will continue to be optional for all students and staff members within Union County Public Schools this coming school year.

Melissa Merrell, chair of the Union County Board of Education, spoke to WBTV Wednesday evening and confirmed that masks will not be a requirement for the 2021-2022 school year.

Cooper held a press conference Wednesday afternoon, recommending that all students and staff in K-8 classrooms should be wearing masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

Cooper, along with North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, added that students and staff at high schools should wear masks if they are unvaccinated. The guidance is outlined in the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit.

“The most important thing our state will do is getting all of our children back into the classroom safely,” said Cooper during the press conference.

Masks have been a hot topic with the Union County Board of Education. Many parents have called for the masks to be optional in schools, but some have requested that the face coverings remain a requirement.

At a board meeting earlier this month, the school board unanimously voted to make masks optional for students and staff members beginning August 1. Merrell explained why masks will remain optional, despite the governor’s latest guidance.

“Have the children wore masks all summer or since May? No, they haven’t,” said the board of education chair. “We feel like that choice should be a parent’s choice and our employees’ choice so we made it optional.”

Merrell added that she believes students and educators can communicate better when they can see each other’s faces.

“In Union County, we feel like being hidden behind a mask is not in the best interest of the teacher relationship or the student relationship,” said the board chair.

Merrell explained that she was happy that the governor’s guidance was merely a recommendation, not a mandate.

“We are very pleased with the decision the governor made today. I recognize he made a recommendation for K through 8, but it was not required and it was not a mandate,” said Merrell.

At Wednesday’s press conference Cooper was asked what would happen if North Carolina school systems didn’t follow his recommendation.

“There’s gonna be a big push all across the state from our office and from others to try to make sure that this is in place because we know how important it is to make sure that children are protected and these teachers are protected,” said the governor.

Cooper did not say whether there would be any sort of enforcement for his latest guidance concerning masks in schools.

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