The Buncombe County School Board of Education in Asheville, North Carolina, voted 4–2 in favor of mandating masks for staff and students in its K-13 school system for the fall.
Staff and students who volunteer to provide proof of vaccination are not required to wear a mask.
Other exemptions from the mandate are for medical and behavioral issues that may be impacted by wearing a face covering.
A spokesperson for the board told The Epoch Times that the decision was made based on guidance provided by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service’s StrongSchoolsNC public health toolkit, which promotes face coverings.
The vote took place without public comment on Aug. 5 in a special session on Thursday morning.
The board met again on Thursday evening, during which public comment was allowed.
Among over 30 people who spoke was Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), who told the school board that it not only “muzzled” the children, but also passed the mask mandate without public comment because the board “knew it was wrong.”
“I’ve witnessed swampy tactics from corrupt bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., but what you have done here puts that all to shame,” Cawthorn said. “You have sacrificed the social, emotional, and psychological development of our children on the altar of wokeness.”
In the first comment, Lori Ledford, a volleyball coach in the school district, said the masks constrict the breathing of the players.
“Last Friday I got the email saying we would have to wear a mask, then the second email I got said that we would have to watch out for heat-related illnesses,” Ledford said. “Well, you guys know that our gyms are not air-conditioned, so our gyms get very hot,” adding that she can’t recognize whether her players are suffering from heat-related illnesses while wearing masks.
Many expressed anger that the vote on the mask mandate had been held without public comment, claiming that the board was “ignoring the voice of the people.”
Some who spoke wore shirts and held signs that said: “Unmask Our Kids.”
Don Yelton, a retired Buncombe County government worker, called the board “stupid,” and said that it was making decisions without the consent of the public, and that the board should be voted out of office.
One speaker who identified herself as Vivian said to the board: “You do not have the right or the power to tell us parents what we can do with our children,” later adding that the majority of the people speaking wanted the board fired.
“You’re out,” she said. “Not voted out, but out, today. You are criminals. Whoever votes to mask our children this school year is a criminal and you should all be in jail for child abuse.”
Clapping followed her comments.
Toward the end of the two-hour meeting, some people in the audience continued to shout at the board, and the board called for a recess, from which it returned to make its final votes on agenda items.
Victoria Hoyland, the one speaker in favor of the mask mandate, said she thinks the board should follow health guidance that recommends masks for the safety of the community.
“But I’m primarily advocating for universal masking for at least K-8 schools until a vaccine is available,” she said. “I respect the right of families to choose what is best for their children, however, parents who will vaccinate their kids under the age of 12 don’t have the ability to exercise that right yet, because the vaccine isn’t available for their kids.”
The spokesperson for the board said that although there was no public comment in the morning meeting, public comment through email was invited for review on the specially called meeting.
At the end of the regular evening meeting, the board voted in favor of making masks optional for coaches and participants of indoor sports during “intense practice activates and while participating in athletic contests.”