(NEW YORK) — A North Carolina school board voted Monday to make masks optional for students and staff indoors, even as 430 students are under quarantine.
The Harnett County School Board voted 4 to 1 for the optional mask policy Monday and it takes effect Tuesday.
Prior to Tuesday, masks were mandatory in the school district, which has more than 19,600 students.
The board also voted to pass an amended quarantine policy allowing students exposed to COVID-19 who haven’t tested positive to return after seven days instead of 10 days. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that those who are unvaccinated should quarantine at home for 14 days after exposure. However, 10-day or seven-day quarantines are acceptable if combined with testing and a negative test result.
According to the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard, as of Monday there are 53 positive virus cases among students and 13 among staff. Further, seven staff and 430 students are currently under quarantine.
The school district has not responded to ABC News’ request for comment.
Mask mandates in schools have been an ongoing heated debate as more than 48 million children under the age of 12 are still ineligible to be vaccinated.
Pediatrician Dr. Lori Langdon spoke at the boarding meeting, saying: “Your students are my patients. I want you to remember that not all students in Harnett County are healthy … Some of them live in homes with immunocompromised parents and grandparents.”
“Our concern is that if we don’t have a mask mandate, we’re just going to be on the countdown back to virtual school and that’s not what any of us want,” she added. “My mask protects you and your mask protects me from you.”
Local residents shared their opinions both for and against the mask during the virtual meeting Monday night.
Parent Gina Carucci said during the meeting, “Obviously this is very political. Masks and virus has nothing to do with the virus, it has to do with complying with the government.”
“You’re taking away their freedom of speech, their freedom to talk to their friends, their freedom to show their smiles,” she said. “These children … it should be their choice.”
Board member Vivian Bennett was the lone member to vote against making masks optional.
“I think the best interest for the people of this county is for there to be masks,” she said before the vote. “My neighbor died, and her sister is taking care of her daughter. She says that she wears a mask every minute, even sleeps in one … I could never vote to think that I might hurt some of the people that I know and don’t know in this county.”
The move by Harnett County Schools comes as a slew of other school districts have imposed mask requirements for students and staff, at times in defiance of state -level bans on mask mandates.
Vaccinations for students will likely be the next frontier of debates. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday a state requirement for COVID-19 vaccines for all school children between 12 to 17 once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration grants full approval of the vaccine for that age group.
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