State allows schools to decide if students must wear masks. Cumberland County will start the new year with them on.

Posted July 25, 2021 7:43 a.m. EDT

— Students and staff who return to school on Monday in Cumberland County will be required to wear masks, the school system announced this week.

The first day of the year-round calendar school year is July 26.

The policy is designed "with a focus on the health and safety of our students and staff," the district said. "Year-round students and staff will be required to wear face masks while at school until further notice."

The announcement came days after the state delegated decisions about mask wearing to local school systems. On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he will let the mandate expire July 30, when the current state of emergency order ends. In place of the mandate, the state Department of Health and Human Services issued an updated toolkit Wednesday for schools to follow to limit the spread of coronavirus as more students return to class statewide in the coming weeks.

The updated guidance recommends that schools continue requiring masks indoors for students and staff in grades K-8 because most of those students aren't yet eligible to be vaccinated.  

DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said she is disappointed with the rate at which older kids are getting vaccinated. Those ages 12 and up are eligible for the vaccine, but state data shows only a quarter of them statewide are fully vaccinated.

Cooper acknowledged that, while the new guidance strongly encourages who should wear masks in schools, there's no way to enforce it, and there are no repercussions for districts that decide to drop masks indoors completely.

Cohen said officials might have to "revisit" the school mask requirements if coronavirus trends continue in the wrong direction and "we see that our school districts aren't keeping our kids safe."

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