The Wake County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to keep its mask mandate in place for the start of the fall semester this month, requiring students and teachers to wear face coverings in the classroom to curb the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19. 

The vote follows the recommendations from staff, who noted that masks would help cut down on the number of students and teachers that will need to quarantine due to exposure. 

School Board Chair Keith Sutton said he would be monitoring the data so administrators have a clear idea of when masks will no longer be needed in the classroom. 

“We want to keep students in school and having that face-to-face instruction,” Sutton said. “I will commit us to an exit plan, an exit strategy … to have some goalpost, milestones to consider as we look for an exit plan so that we’re not wearing masks forever.” 

The move came after parents on both sides of the issue started petitions; one set demanding masks be required, and another stating wearing masks should be optional. Parents with divergent opinions gathered at the board meeting to express their views.

Shaun Pollenz, a former school board candidate who infamously brought M&Ms to a board meeting last year to demonstrate the conditions that teachers, like his mother, must deal with in the classroom, spoke in favor of reinstating the mandate.

“Our family has buried three bodies due to COVID. Three bodies. It is real,” Pollenz said. “To the audience members behind me who do not have masks on, how many family members have you lost? How many people would you be willing to lose?” 

Among the umasked was Christy Zellman, who said masks won’t stop the spread of the virus.

“This board is quite literally ignoring all science and data relating to masks. There is zero science to support masking to prevent the spread of any virus,” Zellman said. “Not one unbiased study exists despite what people might say.”

(Except, you know, this one, this one, and this one.)

Michelle Wilson, a physician and parent, wore her white medical coat and stood among other medical professionals as she urged the crowd to keep the mask requirement in place. 

“As physicians, we strongly believe that in-person learning is one of the most important things we can provide for our children during this pandemic,” Wilson said. “For the benefits of in-person learning to be realized schools must remain open and the available data says schools remain when mitigation techniques are employed.” 

The move will require masks at grade levels, Kindergarten through 12th grade, for the time being. The state has yet to reinstate its mask mandate. Currently, the state has a nearly 11 percent positivity rate among residents tested for COVID-19, and nearly 2,200 new cases were reported Tuesday. About 39 percent of residents in the state remain unvaccinated, including children under 12 years old. 

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