Monthly mask policy votes becoming too political for NC school boards, state official says

Posted September 17, 2021 7:14 p.m. EDT
Updated September 17, 2021 11:12 p.m. EDT

— Under a new state law, every school board across North Carolina is required to hold a public vote every month on their policies regarding wearing masks at school, regardless of whether officials plan to change the policy.

Lawmakers say it’s meant to prevent school districts from leaving mask policies in place when they’re no longer needed. But it’s resulted in heated political battles at school board meetings, with angry, sometimes violent protests.

The Moore County Board of Education rescheduled a meeting this week after board members received a threat, and mask opponents staged rallies outside board meetings in Johnston and Harnett counties. The Harnett County Board of Education voted to make masks optional, while the mask policy wasn't even on the agenda in Johnston County.

"This is not what people signed up for," said Amy Churchill, president of the North Carolina School Boards Association, noting that she's heard from some local board members who are ready to resign their seats.

"I don't think many of us even considered the level of discourse that we would have to deal with that we're seeing today," Churchill said. "There's always been differences of opinion, and you're going to have that, especially when dealing with people's children. But at the end of the day, it's always been very respectful. And what we're seeing is a different tone to these meetings."

House Speaker Tim Moore said he has no second thoughts about the monthly policy review requirement.

"I believe it's a good idea to make sure that that process is done on a monthly basis," said Moore, R-Cleveland. "It allows parents, teachers, everyone else to really have transparency to see what's happening, and, of course, we left it up to their school boards to take whatever action they deem appropriate."

Churchill agrees mask policies should be reviewed frequently in light of recent data from local health officials. But she said she wishes lawmakers would reconsider the required monthly vote, which she says makes the issue unnecessarily political.

"I think that it is adding fuel to the fire of these monthly meetings," she said. "It just becomes very disruptive, and it makes it to where the school board can only really focus on mask mandates. And, you know, believe it or not, we actually have a lot of other things that we have to work on too."

Gov. Roy Cooper, who signed the legislation into law, still believes decisions on masks in schools are best made at the local level, spokesman Jordan Monaghan said.

"The threatening atmosphere seen at some public meetings is clearly unacceptable," Monaghan added.

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