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Union County Schools Delay In-Person Classes A Week To Catch Up On COVID-19 Data

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The Union County school board holds a remote emergency meeting Wednesday evening.

The Union County school board voted 7-1 Wednesday to delay the start of in-person classes by a week. Superintendent Andrew Houlihan says his staff and county health workers need the extra time to review COVID-19 data from winter break.

Students who had been scheduled to return Tuesday will learn remotely next week and come back Jan. 11.

Houlihan said he does not anticipate extending all-remote learning beyond next week, even though Union County and the entire Charlotte region is considered in a state of critical community spread.

"I have been and will continue to be a strong advocate for in-person learning," he said at an emergency remote school board meeting. "I feel like we’ve really done a great job of leading the state, since Aug. 17, as the largest district offering in-person learning as an option for families."

Board Chair Melissa Merrell said students are only giving up three days of in-person classes next week. If the district brings staff and students back without reviewing the data and completing contact tracing, she said it could lead to quarantines and temporary school closings.

"I’d rather have three days of remote learning than have to shut everything down for 14 days," she said.

Board member Gary Sides cast the only vote against the plan. He objected to continuing after-school activities — including indoor volleyball and basketball practices. But Houlihan’s staff and other board members insist sports have been going on safely through winter break.

Teachers and most other employees will work remotely next week, with some administrators and custodians allowed to enter buildings. The board voted unanimously to pay those who can't work during remote learning. Finance chief Shanna McLamb said that will require about $155,000 in county money to cover pay that normally comes from the state.

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