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Here’s How WNC Schools Are Starting The 2021 School Year

Masking on school buses is a federal mandate from the Centers for Disease Control.

Students and staff in 8 out of 16 school districts in BPR’s listening area will not be required to wear masks indoors. Masking indoors and for unvaccinated people is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.


Buncombe, Henderson, Swain, Madison, Macon and Jackson Counties as well as Asheville Schools and Cherokee Central Schools will require masking on campus. This list was updated on August 17th. 

There is, however, a federal mask mandate for all public transportation – which includes school buses. Some schools in the region have already started while others still have school board meetings scheduled in the coming days to make a final decision on masking before the new year starts. This post will be updated throughout the start of the school year, so be sure to check back in.  

Federal mandates: 

The Centers for Disease Control recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. A January CDC order which requires masking on all public transportation applies to school buses.  

Cherokee: Cherokee County Schools approved a resolution to make masks optional for the school year in a special meeting on July 30th. At the Cherokee County School board’s August 12th meeting, it was decided that masks will remain optional. Cherokee County School Superintendent Dr. Jeanna Conely shared that there were 12 school system staff members in quaratine and two positive COVID-19 cases at the time. The board also cited local health department data of  212 active COVID-19 cases, of which 45 are school aged kids. 

Clay: Clay County Schools are not require masks to be worn by any student or staff on campus. The CCS Board of Education reserves the right to mandate face masks at any time. The Clay County Board of Education meets in regular session on the 4th Monday night every month unless otherwise posted.

Graham: The Graham County Board of Education passed a resolution effective August 3rd that makes wearing a mask optional for all students and staff on school property. This will apply to bus riders, guests and events. If health conditions in the county warrant further discussions, the boardwill reserve the option to reassess the resolution at that time.


Graham County schools asked parents for their preference in mid-July.Robbinsville Middle School reminds parents that 7th graders are required to have their Tdap and meningitis vaccinations to start school. Graham County School Board meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month.

Swain: Swain County Board of Education voted on August 11th to mandate masks at Swain County schools. Orginally the board made masking optional in early August but updated the policy because of rising COVID-19 numbers.


Qualla Boundary: Cherokee Central Schools will require masks for all students, staff, and anyone who enters the buildings on the CCS campus and while on the bus.

Macon: Macon County Schools voted to make masks mandatory for the start of the school year on August 16th. The board voted previously voted to make masks optional in July.


Jackson: Jackson County Board of Education voted on July 27th to begin the school year with an indoor mask mandate for all students and staff. The school system will continue to review the policy throughout the year. 

Haywood: Haywood County Schools will have optional masking after a voteby the Haywood Board of Education. There is a petition to mandate masking.

Transylvania: Transylvania County Board of Education voted to make masks optionalfor students, staff, and visitors in all TCS facilities beginning August 9th and doubled down on the vote on August 16th.


However for the first day of school in Transylvania County on the 16th, masks were required by Superintendent Dr. Jeff McDaris after multiple cases of COVID-19 in staff and students at five local schools as well as the quarantine of the Brevard Middle School Football team after close contact with a player who is positive for COVID-19.

Henderson: All students and staff are required to wear masks indoors, except for those with legal exemptions as defined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services SafeSchoolsNC Toolkit.  Student athletes in indoor sports must wear masks at all time except when participating in indoor athletics.  On August 9th, the Henderson County school district confirmed 5 individuals at Hendersonville Elementary had lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 that are linked, meeting the definition of a ‘cluster’ as defined by NCDHHS.  


Buncombe: All students and staff are required to wear masks while indoors, though they can opt out if they provide proof of vaccination.  Masks are required on buses/official school transportation regardless of vaccination status.  Coaches and student athletes in indoor sports must wear masks but have the option of lowering them ‘during intense practice activities and while participating in athletic contests.’

Asheville Schools: All students and staff are required to wear masks while indoors and on buses/official school transportation regardless of vaccination status.  Student athletes will have to wear masks when they are not engaging in ‘rigorous physical activity’ regardless of whether they are inside or outside.


Madison: Madison County Board of Education decided to institute a mask requirement for students and staff on August 11th. The school system previously made masks optional on August 3rd.


Yancey: Masks are encouraged but not required in Yancey County School buildings.  Masks are required on all buses due to federal requirements. 


McDowell: McDowell County Board of Education voted to make face coverings optional for all district campuses and facilities effective Monday, August 2.  Face coverings are required for all passengers on school and activity buses, per federal guidelines, until further notice.  Eastfield Global Magnet School and Cooperative Innovative High Schools are already in session. 


Polk: Polk County  Board Of Education voted on August 2, to make masking optional for staff and students for indoor school activities. There is a petition to mandate masking.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.
Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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