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Cawthorn Calls For Optional Masking In WNC Schools, Macon Mandates Masks

Courtesy of Macon County Schools
Macon County Board of Education met Monday August 16th. Meeting attendance was virtual.

School boards across Western North Carolina are still deciding on whether to make masks mandatory for students and staff.  The region’s Congressman has recently attended several meetings to share his views against mask mandates. 

The Macon County Board of Education met on Monday night to discuss the school system’s masking policy which was planned to be optional.  The meeting was virtual because of high COVID-19 case numbers in the county. 

As the board heard comments from parents and residents differing on the issue, Republican Congressman Madison Cawthorn joined virtually to urge the board to “stop politicizing children.”

“Trust these children to have the wherewithal to know when they are in danger. To know when they are sick and should stay home and also to know when they should wear a mask,” said Cawthorn.

He explained that he envisions a future where the Federal Department of Education will be disbanded and that all power over local education will be given to the school board.

“Stand up and do the hard things. I understand that it may be unpopular. I understand that you may get some backlash but surely the people in Raleigh can’t arrest all of us,” said Cawthorn.   

Cawthorn also offered misleading information about the numbers of children who have died because of COVID-19 compared to the flu.

Recently, COVID-19 hospitalizations of children reached a new height nationwide because of the Delta variant.  In North Carolina, those 17 and under currently make up 2 percent of hospitalizations in the state. There have been 4 COVID-19 deaths of children reported out of 13,895 deaths statewide, according to NC DHHS.

Ultimately, the Macon board voted to make masks mandatory for students and staff to start the year. The board chair explained that this decision would be revisited as COVID-19 data is monitored regularly.

Buncombe County did the same last week after Cawthorn also spoke at their public meeting.

On Monday, Cawthorn also attended the Transylvania County Board meeting.

For the first day of school in Transylvania County, 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.

But Transylvania County Board of Education voted for masks to remain optional until their next meeting on September 20th .

This updates the count to 8 out of 16 school districts in the BPR listening area mandating masking.

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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