GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Pitt County students and staff will start the semester by wearing masks. The decision comes from a 6-2 vote by the board of education just two days before the semester starts because of the rising COVID numbers in the county.

Dr. John Silvernail, Pitt County Health Director, joined the meeting virtually to discuss the county’s COVID-19 metrics. As of Monday, there is a 20-percent positivity rate throughout the county.

At the board’s December meeting, they voted to make masks optional starting in January, but at Monday’s meeting, Silvernail recommended the board reinstate the mandate based on the recent surge of the Omicron variant.

“Over the last several days, I’ve heard from at least eight healthcare providers saying we need to mandate masks,” said Anna Barrett Smith, a Pitt County School board member. “Masking is imperfect, nobody is saying it works perfectly, nobody is saying it is the end all be all.”

Parents spoke for and against the mandate at the meeting. The board will have a decision to make again in February.

The mandate goes into effect immediately on Jan. 4.

The board also met in a special meeting to discuss whether certain books should be allowed to be read by Pitt County students.

The parent of students at Pitt County, Taylor Keith, put in a request for three books to be evaluated. Keith said his 8th-grade child’s class read, Darkness before Dawn, a book about a father raping his daughter, without parental consent.

Pitt County Schools’ media specialist, Meredith Hill, gave a presentation at the meeting as to what criteria the books met after an evaluation from school and district officials. Hill said they choose a variety of books that reflect circumstances of all students.

Keith said it should be a parent’s choice.

“I keep hearing, I have the right to censor my kid, but not everybody else’s,” Keith said. “My response to that is they have the right to put in front of their child whatever they want, but they don’t have the right to put that in front of mine.”

The board voted to postpone this discussion. They’ll vote on next steps in a special called meeting on Jan. 17.