JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The Onslow County Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to make masks optional for staff and students starting Monday.

The board held its session Tuesday night to a packed house anxious to learn if masks would be required to be worn another month by students and staff. There was an open period of discussion from the audience before the board gave its input, leading to the vote.

“I’m just here to speak in favor of relaxing the COVID-19 protocols specifically the removing the mask mandate in schools. Removing the mandate does not remove the ability to wear one, it just removes the requirement,” said Onslow County parent Matt Gordon.

In October, the board voted to extend the mask mandate as COVID-19 cases continued to be high.

“We went from 476 positive cases to 36 positive cases for students out of a population of 27,000,” Onslow County Schools board member Jeff Hudson said. “Tells me it’s time to make masks optional.”

Entering Tuesday’s meeting, the school system had 42 active COVID-19 cases among students and staff as of Nov. 4 with 21 active quarantines. The school system had nearly 400 active cases and more than 2,000 in quarantine at the beginning of September, which led to the return of the mask mandate.

“Whether you’re for the mask optional or the mask mandate, most of the educators that we have talked to are for it because they want the kids in the classrooms,” said Onslow County teacher Anne Hardinger before Tuesday’s meeting.

Onslow County Schools Board of Education meeting on Nov. 9 (Onslow County Schools photo)

There was an original motion to end contract tracing but that was scrapped before a new motion was issued and voted on.

In addition to making masks optional starting Monday, the board will access the number of COVID-19 cases and contact tracing at its December meeting, as currently required by state law. The board will consult with the Onslow County health department during the December meeting. If cases rise, consideration will be taken to return to a mask-required mandate.