Opponents of masking mandates for school students protested before board of education meetings in Moore and Harnett counties Monday.

In Moore County, the decision on renewing the mandate put in place last month was delayed until a Sept. 22 special called meeting. In Harnett County, the board reversed a previous decision and decided to allow its students to have the option to wear masks beginning in October.

Board members in Harnett County voted 3-2 to make masks optional beginning on Oct. 5. Outside the meeting, a group of parents waved flags and held signs supporting their right to choose what is best for their children.

In Moore County, several dozen parents and supporters gathered outside the board’s offices in Carthage. Moore County Schools had originally announced a special called meeting for Monday afternoon and then changed locations due to the possibility of a large crowd showing up for the discussions.

On Sept. 10, Moore County Schools issued a statement saying that additional safety protocols would be in place for the Monday meeting. The protocols were established with the assistance of the Moore County Schools Police and outside law enforcement. The meeting had initially been scheduled to take place at West Pine Elementary School, but was changed to the Central Office on U.S. Hwy. 15-501 in Carthage. Law enforcement had also recommended the use of metal detectors to gain entry to the meeting as is common for many government meetings. Officials also announced there would be a heightened police presence at the meeting.

Initially, school officials had said there would be no rallies or gatherings allowed on site, stating that members of the public could attend the meeting and offer comments, but would not be permitted to “gather or loiter on school system premises.”

On Monday, after consulting with the Moore County Sheriff’s Office and Moore County Schools Police, Moore County Schools announced that it would “accommodate a peaceful demonstration ahead of the board of education meeting Monday afternoon.”

As the Moore County Board of Education met in closed session, protesters gathered with signs, waiting for the public portion of the meeting. It was soon announced that the meeting had been adjourned and rumors circulated as to why. Protesters left when it became apparent that the continuation of the meeting would not happen on Monday.

Instead, Moore County Schools officials announced Tuesday that a special called meeting would be set for Sept. 22 in the boardroom of the school’s main administration building, located at 5277 U.S. 15-501 in Carthage.

The board is slated to discuss the matters that had been previously listed on the agenda and take any action that was expected at the Sept. 13 meeting. The closed session is set for 3:30 p.m. and the open session for 6:30 p.m.

Members of the public who wish to comment can do so either in person or by phone.

A sign-up sheet for those wanting to speak in person will be available at the Central Office building on Sept. 22 — the day of the meeting — from 5:45 p.m. to 6:25 p.m. Those wanting to speak via phone can sign up online during the same time frame or call 910-944-3171.

School officials also announced Tuesday that external groups that wish to hold demonstrations prior to the school board meetings on school or school district property must issue a request to Moore County Schools Police. All requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The Moore County School Board also issued a statement to clarify the confusion related to the adjournment of Monday’s meeting.

“Yesterday’s Board of Education September regular business meeting was adjourned for two reasons,” the statement reads. “First, there was a typographical error for the start time of the closed session portion of the board meeting on the Board of Education meeting schedule web page. Closed session was noted as beginning at 5 p.m., while the board agenda, district calendar and public notices to media all noted the correct start time of 4 p.m.”

The statement continued, “Second, there is a statutory requirement that any change in the time or location posting of a public meeting be posted for 48 hours on the front door of the building when the building is closed during the notice period. This requirement of a paper notice on the front door of the building was overlooked.”

School officials said the regular business meeting was adjourned after these issues were pointed out, and no other business was conducted.

“Therefore, to continue with the regular business of the Board of Education, there is a special called meeting Wednesday, Sept. 22, at the Central Office in Carthage,” the statement reads. “As of now, the meeting will open at 3:30 p.m. with closed session and the public session will begin at 6:30 p.m. More information will soon be available on the Moore County Schools website.”

On Monday, Moore County officials shared that 233 more cases of COVID-19 had been added to the county’s totals; however, no new deaths had been reported. There are currently 646 “active” cases in Moore County, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Over the past seven days, Moore County has averaged 93 cases per day with a 17.1% positive result of COVID-19 tests. Currently, 20 people are hospitalized, according to the data. Since the statistics have been kept, Moore County has had 223 deaths and 12,057 confirmed cases. The total estimated recovered cases is 11,188.