JACKSON – And then there were four.
This week, Northampton County Schools became the latest district in North Carolina to drop their face mask mandate, leaving only four districts with requirements in place.
The county’s Board of Education voted unanimously at their meeting here on March 14 to switch to masks optional for all school buildings and buses. Dr. Marjorie Edwards made the motion, citing recent low numbers of COVID-19 cases, and Tony Burnette provided the second.
With this decision, Northampton joins 110 other districts that have switched to an optional mask policy. Most of those switches have been made in the past few weeks.
The NC General Assembly passed a bill (SB 654) last August which requires every school district to consider their mask policy each month during the 2021-22 school year and to make modifications if necessary.
With Northampton’s decision, three out of four public school districts in the Roanoke-Chowan area are now mask optional. Bertie County Schools made the switch last week, on March 8, also citing a low number of recent cases as the reason for the change.
Gates County Schools went mask optional on Feb. 7, but added stipulations to the policy. School metrics for COVID cases/quarantines must remain at five percent or under for students and staff. If the numbers begin to exceed five percent at a school, that school will return to mandatory masks for seven consecutive school days.
Hertford County’s Board of Education voted to continue their mask mandate at their Feb. 28 meeting, but will consider the matter again at their next meeting.
n addition to Hertford County, the other districts with mask mandates still in place are Durham Public Schools, Weldon City Schools, and Warren County Schools.
As previously reported by the News Herald, in mid-February, Gov. Roy Cooper began encouraging schools and local governments to end their mask mandates, a decision based on case metrics and the widespread availability of vaccines.
“We are taking a positive step on mask requirements to help us move safely toward a more normal day to day life. It’s time to focus on getting our children a good education and improving our schools, no matter how you feel about masks,” Cooper said in a press release.
The General Assembly approved SB 173 around the same time. That bill would repeal the monthly requirement for districts to vote on mask policies each month and would allow parents to be the ones to make the decision about masking their children.
Cooper vetoed that bill, noting that districts across the state were already lifting mask mandates.
“Passing laws for political purposes that encourage people to pick and choose which health rules they want to follow is dangerous and could tie the hands of public health officials in the future,” he stated in his veto message.
The State Senate attempted a veto override, but did not garner enough votes to be successful.