Parents clashed over requiring masks in Wake County classrooms Tuesday, with a majority arguing against them as the school year nears close and COVID-19 cases rise.
Seven of 10 speakers urged Wake school board members to make masks optional when students return, and at least a dozen more cheered them from a nearby room as they watched the meeting via a live feed, chanting, “No more masks!”
“Little children can’t see smiles,” said Chanel Marshall, a mental health therapist, her voice breaking. “Little children are dying. They are having suicidal thoughts. I deal with these students every single day. Children need to have these masks removed. It’s not OK.”
Gov. Roy Cooper will hold a media briefing at 2 p.m. Wednesday and is widely expected to address masks in classrooms statewide.
His decision will come as the state’s positive COVID-19 tests and hospitalizations reach new highs for the summer, with more than 3,000 new cases and a dozen deaths reported between Friday and Monday.
To date, North Carolina health officials have reported more than 1 million cases and 13,000 deaths from the virus.
Some county school boards, including Randolph and Union, have already passed resolutions making masks optional.
Delta variant fears
State health officials fear nearly all of those hospitalized with the virus in recent weeks have not been vaccinated, and that the more-contagious delta variant will cause further spread as people drop their guard and gather.
Several parents echoed their fears, noting that safety outweighs the discomfort and inconvenience of masking.
Anna Watkins said her two children need the close contact of in-person classes after so long in virtual classrooms. A mask requirement, she said, will reduce the risk of viral spread if the caseload increases and children’s vaccines remain unavailable until winter.
“Masking will result in less quarantines and more time at school,” she said. “The pandemic is not over. Masks are simple, effective and necessary.”
Masks ‘a personal choice’
But the bulk of Tuesday night’s speakers opposed them outright, and some on the anti-mask side yelled from the audience as school board member Jim Martin read statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services.
This drew two warnings from board Chairman Keith Sutton, and one audience member was led from the room before the meeting ended.
One speaker on the anti-mask side compared masks to trying to stop mosquitoes with a chain-link fence, and many said the county’s most vulnerable citizens are already vaccinated. One speaker railed against Cooper making such a decision for 11 million people on his own.
“I think masks are a personal choice,” said Clayton Dillard, father of seven. “As their parent, I should be able to send my kid to school without a mask. ... It gives the ability to see each other, and relate to each other.”