MONROE — More than 90% of students and educators in North Carolina are required to wear a face mask when they are on school grounds, according to N.C. Governor Roy Cooper, but in Union County mask-wearing remains optional in the public school system.

Cooper has made a public plea for Union County’s Board of Education to require masks as a safety precaution against the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

Others are chiming in on the subject.

The latest organization to publicly request the Union County Board of Education require masks in school is the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), which is “the state’s largest education advocacy organization for public school employees and represents active, retired and student members.”

NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly released the following statement this week: “The health and safety of our students and staff should be the number one priority of all decision-makers inside our public schools. The Union County Board of Education’s decision to allow students to attend school without masks, to end contact tracing, and to end most quarantine procedures is startling and deeply concerning. It’s reckless and flies in the face of Union County’s own health department, the state, and federal public health officials. NCAE is looking into safety options for staff and students, especially those who are not eligible for a vaccine during this ongoing pandemic.”

Cooper shared his thoughts last week on how the public school system in Union County is handling the spread of the pandemic.

“When local boards of education, superintendents, principals and teachers are educated about the science about this and they have to make the decision about local mask requirements, we have found that to be more effective,” Cooper said. “We have found enforcement and compliance to be more effective. That’s why we’re working so closely with them, providing information to them about it. I hope that Union County, I know it was a close vote, I hope they will change their mind and move to a mandatory mask mandate there to protect students.”

UC’s Board of Education has met since Cooper made that statement, but rather than requiring masks, they announced UCPS will eliminate contact tracing.