A veto override could be coming in battle over school mask mandate

(Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

House Speaker Tim Moore tweeted Friday that the battle to end masking requirements in public schools is not over.

Moore, a Republican from Cleveland County, pledged to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of legislation to allow parents to decide whether children wear masks at school.

Speaker Tim Moore

Here’s Moore’s tweet: “This isn’t over. Looking forward to overriding @NCGovernor‘s veto and returning this decision to parents, where it belongs. #ncpol #ncga.”

In the House, seven Democrats joined Republicans in approving Senate Bill 173, also known as the “Free the Smiles Act.” Two Senate Democrats also gave a nod to the bill. Unless Cooper can change minds, the GOP has the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto.

Cooper, a Democrat has urged school districts to lift mask mandates, citing the availability of vaccines and declining COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

He said local school boards must be allowed to decide whether to end mask mandates.

Gov. Roy Cooper

“Passing laws for political purposes that encourage people to pick and choose which health rules they want to follow is dangerous and could tie the hands of public health officials in the future,” Cooper said in a statement Thursday.

Most school districts have ended mask mandates. However, the Durham Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education on Thursday unanimously voted to keep the district’s mandate in place.

DPS Chief Communications Officer Chip Sudderth told the board that the district received 191 submitted public comments in advance of Thursday’s meeting. Most were about mask mandates and a “significant majority” asked for the mandate to remain in place, Sudderth said.

Meanwhile, as Policy Watch previously reported, the Wake County Public Schools (WCPS), the state’s largest school district, voted Tuesday to make masks optional in early March.

WCPS School Board member Jim Martin, a veteran NC State University chemistry professor, urged his colleagues to rethink the decision.

“Anybody who looks at a pandemic and makes a decision based on dates and not metrics is not making a data-based decision, is not making a health based decision. It’s making a political-based decision,” Martin said.

He warned that a fifth wave of the virus is coming.

“If you look in Europe, in most places, the fifth wave of the pandemic comes about six weeks after the peak of the fourth wave,” Martin advised.

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