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After Four Days Of School And 80+ Quarantined Students, Mooresville Cancels Mask-Optional Approach

Classes at Mooresville High had a mix of masked and unmasked students Wednesday.
Ann Doss Helms
Classes at Mooresville High had a mix of masked and unmasked students Wednesday.

Four days after opening schools with masks optional, Mooresville Superintendent Stephen Mauney announced masks will be required to enter the district's seven schools Friday morning.

"I understand that this decision will not make everyone happy, but it is the decision that needs to be made at this point to keep our kids in school," he said in a message sent at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. "In the first four days of school, we have had to quarantine over 80 students, including an entire classroom."

That would have been fewer than 10 if universal masking had been in place, Mauney said. "This data point itself shows we can keep more kids in school when we all wear masks."

Mooresville Graded School District is among 50 North Carolina districts that have announced plans to open schools with masks optional, despite urgings from federal, state and local health officials. They all say consistent masking by students and employees can slow the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 and reduce the need for quarantining exposed students, including those who are too young to be vaccinated.

Mooresville is about 25 miles north of Charlotte in Iredell County. Most districts surrounding Mecklenburg County, including Iredell-Statesville Schools, have mask-optional plans in place. However, most can't open schools until the week of Aug. 23 because of the state's school calendar law. Mooresville has an exemption and opened early.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford and other large urban districts are among 36 districts that have announced plans to require masks when schools open.

The state's county alert ratings are supposed to be updated Thursday, but there had been nothing new posted when the Mooresville announcement went out. Mauney said he had information from the local health department indicating Iredell County's rating would go from yellow to orange.

He said medical waivers will be granted with a doctor's signature but religious waivers will not. Students who show up Friday morning without a face covering will not be admitted, he said.

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.