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McDowell County Board of Education votes to make masks optional in local schools.
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McDowell County Board of Education votes to make masks optional in local schools.

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On Thursday, the McDowell County Board of Education voted to give students, teachers and staff the option of wearing masks when school resumes.

That went against the advice of Gov. Cooper's administration, which strongly urged districts to keep mandated mask requirements in place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new mask guidance this week based on levels of transmission in communities.

The new maps designate counties as areas of low (blue), moderate (yellow), substantial (orange) or high (red) transmission.

As of July 28, McDowell was an orange, or substantial spread, county.

"Moving forward, everyone in a red or orange county in North Carolina, including those who have been vaccinated, should wear a mask in public indoor settings," Cooper's administration said in a news release following his Thursday afternoon press conference, which began at 3 p.m. "Additionally, in accordance with the updated CDC guidance, all K-12 schools should require universal masking, regardless of vaccination status. NCDHHS is updating its guidance for schools to align with this recommendation."

But just a few hours earlier, the boardroom at the Central Office in Marion was filled with concerned parents and students anxiously waiting to hear from the Board of Education and their decision on face-covering policy for McDowell County Schools.

 Superintendent Mark Garrett presented to the board the COVID-19 numbers and how they were in the past and presently, along with District Health Director Karen Powell who presented facts of the McDowell County COVID-19 numbers overall and as well as vaccination numbers. Garrett and Powell both spoke about the N.C. Toolkit that parents can access online.

Most of the public comment from the audience favored the optional approach.

After hearing public comments and both presentations, the board heard a motion that face covering would be optional on K-12 McDowell County campuses and facilities. This does not include buses or transportation, because they follow under federal order. This motion was voted and passed, seven in favor and two not in favor.

Those voting to make face coverings optional were Greg Barksdale, Bob Brackett, Terry Frank, Brian Piercy, Michelle Pupoh, Beth Silver and Donnie Suttles. Those voting against were Amy Moomaw and Terry English.

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