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GOP leaders want to let NC students opt out of mask mandates

February 12, 2022 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republicans want to allow parents to let their children opt out of local school board mandates to wear masks.

House Speaker Tim Moore said Friday in a news release that legislation will be proposed soon — after redistricting is likely wrapped up next week — that would allow for such an option.

Moore said he was unhappy Thursday after adjustments to COVID-19 guidance for public schools released by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration said little about masks.

“Yesterday’s updates were simply not strong enough,” Moore said in a news release. “We must do more to protect our children from further learning setbacks and the other consequences of keeping these mandates in place.”

Last summer, Cooper ended a statewide mask mandate but at the time strongly urged school districts to approve policies requiring masks indoors for students and staff. The General Assembly later approved a law telling districts to set mask policies this school year and for school boards to vote on those policies monthly.

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About 40 of the 115 school districts have approved policies making masks optional, according to the North Carolina School Boards Association.

Cooper spokesperson Mary Scott Winstead criticized Moore, saying he’s leaving the impression that there is a statewide mask mandate.

“Public health officials will continue to evaluate guidance as the pandemic evolves. Less theatrics from legislative leaders and more support for public schools would be helpful,” Winstead told The News & Observer of Raleigh.

Senate Republicans support the House’s idea and are studying a bill from Virginia.

“Parents know best. It’s past time to allow parents to make the choice about whether their child should wear a mask in school,” Sen. Deanna Ballard, a Watauga County Republican and Senate education committee leader, said in a emailed statement.

Any bill would have to pass the House and Senate before reaching Cooper’s desk for his consideration.