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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Some NC School Districts, Including CMS, Stop Temperature Scans After State Drops Requirement

Cotswold Elementary students get temperature checks as they arrive for their first day back in person Monday.
Ann Doss Helms
A staffer checks a student's temperature at Cotswold Elementary School in November.

When Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students returned from spring break Monday, the temperature checks that have been part of in-person school since the pandemic began were gone.

That brought mixed reviews from families. "Yes! A return to sanity," one parent tweeted after receiving notice of the change.

"We just doubled the number of kids on campus and returned from spring break," another person tweeted. "Is today really a good time to stop temperature checks?"

About three weeks ago, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services revised its school safety guidelines based on updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Temperature checks and symptom screening as students arrive are no longer recommended.

Instead, the state guidelines now say parents should check their own children for symptoms and keep them home if there's any sign of COVID-19, including exposure to someone who has tested positive. Temperature scans and on-site symptom screening should be reserved for adults, the new guidelines say.

It's up to districts to decide how and when to revise their entry procedures. Union County and Iredell-Statesville schools dropped the student temperature scans earlier, while Cabarrus County and Gaston County schools still do them.

CMS school health specialist Monica Adamian said the state initially required the temperature checks as a means of detecting possible COVID-19 cases. The state also provided touchless thermometers to schools. They’re quicker than using an oral thermometer, she says, but not very accurate, especially when staff were standing outside with the temperature guns as students got out of cars.

"If the thermometer was cold it would read hotter. If the person was sitting in front of the heater it would read hotter too," she said. "So we were having students stand there inside the building and recheck."

Adamian says the scans weren’t effective at picking up undetected COVID-19.

The state also stopped requiring daily symptom screening at school entrances. But CMS is still asking students or parents to complete a quick daily checklist, which can be done online.

Adamian said it helps reinforce good habits: "If we can keep kids out of school when they’re sick, whether it’s for something run-of-the-mill or it truly is a COVID case, that’s going to help us more than anything else."

CMS eliminated its weekly "bus attestation form," which required schools to follow up by phone if students didn't bring that form. The district says eliminating the temperature checks and bus forms streamlines arrival at a time when larger numbers of students are attending in person.

Last week, state health officials urged all public and private schools to request free rapid antigen screening tests. Health officials say that’s a more effective way to prevent COVID-19 spread in schools. Parent permission is required to test students.

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Updated: April 12, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.