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State Classifies Union Academy's COVID-19 Cases As A School Cluster

Union Academy Charter School in Monroe is seen in 2019.
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Union Academy Charter School in Monroe is seen in 2019.

Union Academy charter school has been listed as a COVID-19 school cluster, the first in the Charlotte region this school year.

The K-12 year-round school in Monroe was one of the first to open after Gov. Roy Cooper lifted the state's mask mandate for schools. The state still recommends that all staff and students wear face coverings indoors, but no longer requires it.

Classes began July 26, with about half the 2,000 students allowed not to wear masks because their parents requested exemptions. School officials reported 14 cases at the end of the first week, and started requiring masks unless parents provided a doctor's note for an exemption.

By last Friday, the end of the second week, Union Academy was reporting 62 cases, but it wasn’t clear whether those people had been infected at school or in the community.

The cluster designation means local health officials believe there is "plausible epidemiologic linkage" between five or more cases connected to the school. The state list posted Tuesday lists 26 students in the Union Academy cluster.

Most public schools in North Carolina won’t open until Aug. 23 because of the state's school calendar law. Mooresville Graded Schools, which has an exemption, opened last week with masks optional but changed that policy four days later as cases emerged.

North Carolina's quarantine rules allow more students to stay in school after exposure if everyone is masked. Across the state, districts and charter schools are weighing the public health benefits of masking against pressure from parents and community members who want the choice to decide for themselves.

Monday night the Kannapolis City school board, which initially approved a mask-optional policy, voted to require masks because of rising COVID-19 cases among Cabarrus County residents, especially children.

In South Carolina, districts are forbidden to require masks in schools.

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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.