Despite more than 150 people protesting outside the school board last week, the Johnston County Board of Education voted 4-3 to continue requiring masks in the classroom.  

The school board decided to require masks last month as the number of coronavirus cases in Johnston County and around North Carolina continued to climb. Cases have spiked since schools went back in August, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

Johnston County reported 529 positive COVID-19 cases in students since the beginning of September and currently has 754 students on quarantine.

The number of new cases appears to be leveling out, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Service.

Almost all school districts in North Carolina currently require students and staff to wear masks in school buildings. But a new law passed by the General Assembly last month says each school district must vote monthly on mask rules.

School districts around the state have seen protests and public comment periods taken over by the debate on masks in the classroom.

Cawthorn, who represents North Carolina's 11th District in the mountains, led a short protest march to the Johnston County School Board last week. About 150 people protested outside the school board Tuesday, listening to speeches and holding signs as the board met inside.

Some, including Cawthorn, went inside the district building to give comments to the board.

“Set a precedent today for freedom in the state of North Carolina,” the congressman said. “Defy Roy Cooper, make masks optional, end contract tracing and end these burdensome quarantine requirements."

Cawthorn has spoken against masks at several school board meetings in his district in western North Carolina, but Johnston County is hundreds of miles from his home district.

Lincoln County and Harnett County recently voted to end mask mandates in the coming weeks.

Johnston County School Board members plan to create a committee to look at the COVID-19 data and figure out what the metrics need to look like before they drop the mask mandate. The board also discussed making mask-optional schools for students and teachers who would rather have masks be optional.

A Johnston County man started protesting the school's mask mandate after he says his wife, who is a teacher, was made to stay home over not compiliing with the mandate. He says he continues to hold protests outside a different county school each day.