SMITHFIELD, N.C. – Opponents of school mask mandates said Monday their concerns extend beyond policies enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


What You Need To Know

Johnston County's school board voted 4-3 on Monday to extend its school mask mandate for another month

Board members said they plan to develop their own metrics to govern when to lift the requirement

Protest organizer Joe Preston said he plans to picket outside a different school every day until the mandate is lifted

Preston says parents have other concerns besides the mask issue


Joe Preston began organizing protests against the mask mandates last month after school officials ordered his wife, Aurora, who is a teacher at a Johnston County school, to stay home because of her refusal to wear a mask.

He now leads a demonstration in front of a different school every morning. Last week, he organized a protest at a Johnston County Board of Education meeting that included Congressman Madison Cawthorn. Ahead of Monday's vote, he led a small group at a busy intersection in downtown Smithfield.

“I don't care if you want to wear a mask. I don't care if you want to get vaccinated,” he said. “What I care about is what I want to do and what you want to do. We're pro-choice.”

At a virtual meeting Monday afternoon, the Johnston County Board of Education voted 4-3 to continue the school system's mask mandate for another month. During the meeting, board members Terri Sessoms and Lyn Andrews both said they would like for school officials to develop metrics to govern when they lift the mandate. Sessoms and Andrews both voted in favor of extending it.

Like many parts of North Carolina, Johnston County's COVID-19 numbers began rising rapidly in August. Hospitalizations rose as high as 86 early this month after remaining in the high teens all summer. At last week's board of education meeting, the county's health director said the county's hospital inpatient count was the highest it has ever been, and hospitals have had to cancel elective surgeries that require overnight stays.

Preston said he plans to continue protesting at least until the school board rescinds its mask mandate. After that, he said he plans to turn his attention to other issues, such as the lack of bus drivers and substitute teachers. He already plans to run for the school board next year.