RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Local school leaders — and not state officials — would decide for next school year whether students and workers in K-12 schools must wear face coverings for protection from COVID-19 in legislation approved Wednesday by the House.
Gov. Roy Cooper's current executive order and guidance by state health officials direct that most everyone wear face coverings indoors in public and private schools. Currently people age 12 and over can receive COVID-19 vaccines.
The bill, approved 66-44 and heading to the Senate, would give local school boards and leaders of nonpublic schools the “exclusive authority” to decide on face coverings. A local board of education would have to vote by Aug. 1 on a face covering mandate for the first month of the school year. And districts that require masks during the year also would have to vote monthly on continuing the policy.
Cooper would still have authority to issue orders requiring masks at individual schools to reduce transmissions. But the measure marks another effort by Republicans to scale back the Democratic governor's influence over the state's coronavirus response.
Rep. David Willis, a Union County Republican shepherding the bill, framed the measure as a way to rebuild confidence in students who have felt isolated from friends and teachers since the pandemic, which included periods of virtual classes and social distancing. But Democratic Rep. Susan Fisher of Buncombe County said it's the wrong time to alter decision-making on masks with a COVID-19 variant that spreads more easily surfacing.