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Gov. Roy Cooper addresses ‘threats, bullying, intimidation’ at school board meetings over mask requirements

Cooper was joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force to share the update at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh.
Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 1:25 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2021 at 4:06 PM EDT
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - As schools continue to debate whether masks are required or optional inside the classroom, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper addressed on Tuesday the behavior he has heard about during recent school board meetings.

While most school boards have voted to require face coverings in schools, there are several districts where masks are optional, including Union and Lincoln counties, in the WBTV viewing area.

There have been arguments, disruption and anger geared at school leaders based on their decision on masks.

“Many are concerned about the fevered pitch that many school board meetings have reached in recent weeks. I am, too,” Gov. Cooper said. “Threats, bullying, intimidation. None of this belongs in our public schools, particularly by adults. Remember – our children are watching.”

Gov. Roy Cooper spoke Tuesday to address the fight against COVID-19 in North Carolina.

He was joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force to share the update at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh

The StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit recommends all students wear face coverings in school no matter their vaccination status.

Gov. Cooper backs those recommendations, however, it is up to the school district to decide on masks in schools.

Gov. Cooper says that, no matter what schools boards decide, it is up to the adults to set a good example.

“(Children) are absorbing everything they see and hear, even if we think they aren’t paying attention,” Gov. Cooper said. “Being civil and respectful of one another is important to navigate another COVID school year. Let’s behave the way we ask our kids to act. We owe it to them and we owe it to each other.

Gov. Cooper says masks and vaccinations are the best way to keep students in the classroom safely throughout the year, which is the state’s primary priority.

“Keeping children safe, healthy and learning, while in person, and in the classroom – that’s the number one priority,” Gov. Cooper said. “We cannot lose sight of that critically important goal.”

According to state health leaders, only 38 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have been fully vaccinated in North Carolina.

“All schools should require masks to keep our students in schools,” said NCDHHS Sec. Many Cohen. “The decision to get vaccinated for some is easy. For others, it is much more difficult. Please talk to doctors and nurses or go to reliable sources. I want you to get the facts to get vaccinated.”

Earlier this week, the Union County Board of Education approved a motion to recognize quarantines of students and staff who are considered close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases, in accordance with state law.

According to the motion, the school board will continue to follow its legal obligations of reporting positive cases to Union County Public Health and provide relevant information to county health officials.

Additionally, Union County Public Schools will require students who are symptomatic or positive for COVID-19 to stay home.

During the brief public meeting, board members said Union County Public Health has taken over primary responsibilities of contact tracing and has reduced the length of the quarantine period of asymptomatic individuals, in accordance with state law.

According to the district, those in quarantine will not be allowed back in school until completion of their quarantine orders from Union County Public Health.

The board reversed course from a week ago, when the members made the controversial decision to end contact tracing and quarantining within Union County Public Schools.

Days after that decision, North Carolina State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen sent the district a letter asking Union County to comply with state guidance by Friday, Sept. 17, at 5 p.m., or legal action could be taken.

By the end of the week, officials with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said their attorneys had “productive conversations” with Union County School Board attorneys about their safety protocols in order to avoid legal action against the district.

On Sept. 7, the Union County Public School Board has decided to keep masks optional in schools despite thousands of students in quarantine within the district due to COVID-19.

The last time Gov. Cooper held a press conference about COVID-19, he urged vaccinations, pushed for masks in schools and touted monoclonal antibody treatment. The governor said COVID-19 vaccines are continuing to do their job by stopping most of the severe illness and death and they remain the “best tool to end this pandemic.”

In early August, parents poured into the Union County board meeting and rallied outside before it even started.

[Union County school board votes for optional mask-wearing for students and staff]

It was a heated debate that had both sides of the spectrum fired up.

Things got heated between those wanting masks optional and those who want them to be mandatory in the classroom.

[Union County Board of Education member attributes rise of COVID-19 cases to ‘illegal’ immigrants]

There were signs, chants -- and inside -- a packed room of parents and educators.

“Easy to see from the evidence kids don’t face real danger from this virus,” one parent said.

Others pushed to make them mandatory.

“Every medical organization in the world that says masks need to remain,” another parent said.

Back in May, dozens of angry parents fought against the required mask mandate for their students in Iredell County.

In a heated debate, those parents think their children wearing masks for eight hours a day is unnecessary.

Some parents picketed outside, with signs saying, “My child, my choice.”

Inside the Iredell-Statesville School Board, exchanges became heated.

Parents chanted, “No more masks! No more masks!”

Passions in the crowd quickly went from disappointed to angry to enraged.

“You have to take it off or it never ends,” a parent said.

North Carolina health officials reported 4,381 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. To date, there have been 1,350,697 confirmed cases since the first case was reported in North Carolina on March 3, 2020.

Officials also reported 3,464 people are hospitalized due to the virus. The total number of people who have died of complications with the virus is now 15,811 in North Carolina.

Officials also say 17,205,478 tests have been given in N.C. and the daily percent of positive tests reported was 11 percent.

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