‘Our children, our choice’: Parents demand school board drops mask mandate

IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — There was loud applause at Monday night’s Iredell-Statesville Board of Education meeting as parents called out board members for keeping students in masks.

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“Take the masks off our children,” parent Carrie Prejean Boller said. “It’s our choice as parents. It’s my child, my choice. The facts don’t -- like, children are not affected by this virus.”

Boller organized a parental protest and they let board members know that if they don’t get rid of the masks, there will be consequences at the ballot box.

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“Every registered voter, we’re gonna organize them,” parent Michael Phelps said. “We’re gonna enlist them. We’re gonna train them, and we’re gonna campaign viciously to toss every one of you all out of office.”

The parents believe that the mask mandate has outlived its usefulness, and the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

“It’s hard because I can’t breathe. Sometimes, I feel I’m gonna pass out,” said Gracie Caminiti, a 13-year-old student.

[READ MORE: Iredell-Statesville Schools superintendent says staff behavior key to preventing COVID]

A couple of board members supported the parents but said they couldn’t vote to do away with masks because it’s a state mandate, and they would be liable if something were to happen.

“Our governor, in my opinion, has overstepped his authority, but I will not put this board in jeopardy,” said board member Bill Howell.

The district did not change it’s policy on Monday, saying it would create a liability, so students are still required to wear masks until the state mandate is lifted.

On Tuesday, school officials sent a release that stated they would follow the governor’s orders and guidance from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and NCDHHS guidance.

So the district will continue to require school and staff to wear masks during school for the rest of the year.

FULL STATEMENT:

In adherence with Section 2.11(b) of North Carolina Session Law 220-49 , the guidance provided by both the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, and Governor Cooper’s Executive Orders, the Iredell-Statesville School District will continue to require students and staff to wear a mask during the school day for the remainder of this school year.

The district has and will continue to accept mask waivers that are signed by a medical or mental health professional. If a child has an extenuating circumstance that inhibits their ability to wear a mask and cannot provide a waiver from a medical or mental health provider, the child’s school will meet with the parent to evaluate and discuss the circumstances on a case by case basis.

‘Iredell-Statesville Schools are proud to be back in school five days a week for grades K-12,’ stated Superintendent Dr. Jeff James. ‘We have worked hard to get students back onto our campuses. We have learned over the last 14 months that solid leadership and a clear COVID safety protocol has been the key to our ability to stay in school. Quarantine rules as it relates to six feet of social distancing have been difficult to manage, and we’ve had to quarantine hundreds of students over the last months. However, we are happy to report that, although we have had COVID in our community, we are not spreading COVID in our schools.’

‘We feel strongly that children need routine, social interaction, and academic rigor. Wearing a mask for a few more weeks allows us to finish the school year with some level of normalcy and will help ensure many students are available to attend important end-of-school year events, like graduations, class parties, and proms. Our Governor and NC Legislature have spoken, and we intend to continue to follow the guidelines under which we are allowed to return to school face-to-face. North Carolina law, 2020-49 requires all schools in the state to be in compliance with ‘all required COVID-19 guidance issued by the state board of education, department of public instruction and department of health and human services.’ Schools have to follow the Strong Schools NC Public Health (K-12) Toolkit, which requires masks. We are grateful to our 2,500 employees and 20,000 students and families who have put their trust in us to keep them safe. We have found that our families have vast opinions on masking.’”

protocols. We realize that we simply can’t make everyone happy. At this point, our primary goal is

to finish the school year with gratitude, grace, and flexibility. We look forward to a full return in the

fall of 2021, and we are hopeful that we will have the opportunity to do so unmasked.”