Smithfield, N.C. — In less than two weeks, Johnston County students will no longer be required to wear face coverings in the classroom.
School board members voted 6-1 Tuesday night to transitional to optional masking starting Feb. 21.
I think it’s time to give parents the choice [and] let them decide on wat’s best for their student,” said Johnston County Board of Education Chairman Todd Sutton.
In order for masks to stay optional, school board members aid the COVID-19 positivity rate among staff and students must remain under 4 percent. Schools will shift to required masking for 10 calendar days if the positivity rate goes over 4 percent.
Whether or not a mask mandate should be in place has been a debated topic in Johnston County. In September, Johnston County Public Schools made national headlines when Rep. Madison Cawthorn joined dozens of parents in protesting the school mask requirement.
But pediatrician Dr. Kristin Donoghue said she’s worried the move to drop masks might be too premature.
“You have to do it in a step-wise fashion,” said Donoghue.
Donoghue said while the decline in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations is exciting, the positive test rate remains high — posing a greater risk for spread of the virus.
Instead of dropping the mask mandate, Donoghue said there are other options school leaders should consider taking.
“I think that, you could be considering more universal screening of students to capture infections — asymptomatic and otherwise. I think recommending vaccines is ideal because that keeps people healthy and kids in schools,” she said.
Cumberland County also voted for masks to become optional starting Feb. 16. Meanwhile, Lee County voted 4-3 for masks to remain in place.
Harnett County previously voted to also make masks optional for all students.
North Carolina does not have a blanket mask requirement for schools, and state law requires each district to vote on the mask policy each month. Wake County will vote next on the district’s mask mandate in March after the school board extended the existing mandate last week. Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said Monday night that she hopes the city can lift its indoor mask mandate by March.