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The Johnston County school board is delaying its decision on whether to continue requiring face masks in schools amid a protest led by U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn calling for the end of the mask mandate.
The school board opted to postpone Tuesday’s vote due to the absence of vice chairwoman Terri Sessoms, whose husband died recently. A new state law requires school boards to hold monthly votes on their masking policies.
The board will now hold a special virtual meeting at 2 p.m. Monday.
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Cawthorn led a protest outside the Johnston County school system’s headquarters in Smtihfield that drew hundreds of people. Protesters hope the board will reverse its 4-3 vote in August to mandate that students and teachers wear masks indoors.
“I want to thank everybody who is here in Johnston County doing their jobs to defend our country, to fight back against the tyranny that is trying to take your parental rights away,” Cawthorn told the crowd. “We are here to help you. We will not comply.
A separate protest occurred Monday before the Harnett County school board voted 3-2 to end its mask mandate.
Citizen Advocates for Accountable Government and JCPS Parents For Freedom organized the protest. The meeting will be available for people to watch at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vTJLQLqTQM
Most districts still require masks
Despite Harnett County’s vote, nearly all of North Carolina’s 115 school districts are still requiring masks. Johnston is among dozens of North Carolina school districts that put on hold plans to not require masks amid the surge of COVID cases from the delta variant.
Johnston County is the state’s seventh-largest school district, with more than 37,000 students. According to the school district’s COVID dashboard, there are 178 active cases and 782 quarantines among students and 15 cases and 50 quarantines among staff.
State health officials are allowing for more relaxed quarantine requirements in districts that require masks.
Unlike last school year, the state is leaving it up to individual school districts and charter schools whether to require face masks. But the state is urging that schools continue to require the masks due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.
A new state law requires school boards to hold monthly votes on their face mask policies. It’s ensuring that board meetings around the state remain battlegrounds.
Cawthorn speaks against mask mandate
Johnston County is located hundreds of miles from Cawthorn’s Western North Carolina Congressional district. But the Hendersonville Republican has spoken against mask mandates in multiple school districts.
Cawthorn acknowledged Tuesday that he’s far from his district. But Cawthorn said he’s here to “save my generation from socialism” by speaking around the state in support of conservative Republican politicians.
“It’s time to stop sending these cookie-cutter politicians to the school board, to Washington D.C. and to the General Assembly,” Cawthorn said.
At an August Buncombe County school board meeting, Cawthorn called it “psychological child abuse” to require students to wear masks, The News & Observer previously reported. Also during that meeting, some parents “overthrew” the current school board and instated themselves into the positions, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported.
At an August Transylvania County school board meeting, Cawthorn urged school leaders to “disobey” state health quarantine rules for COVID, The N&O previously reported.
On Monday, Cawthorn made a personal appeal to the school board in his home county of Henderson to end its mask mandate. But the school board voted to continue the mandate, The Hendersonville Time-News reported.