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

Iredell Closes Five Schools As NC Discusses COVID-19 Control Strategies

Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Most North Carolina districts are now requiring masks to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Iredell-Statesville Schools has temporarily closed five of its 37 schools because of COVID-19. All students at North Iredell High, Central Elementary and East Iredell, West Iredell and Lakeshore middle schools. are now learning remotely and will return Sept. 13, a district spokesperson said Thursday.

The school board voted Tuesday to impose a mask mandate. Superintendent Jeff James told the board COVID was spreading so fast that he’d end up taking the whole district virtual unless masks were required.

At Thursday's North Carolina Board of Education meeting, Health Director Betsey Tilson said a growing number of districts that started with mask-optional policies are making that change.

"As of this morning we’re up to 106 of the 115 school districts have moved to masking requirements, and that covers about 94% of our children in our public school systems," she said.

North Carolina’s school safety rules allow students to remain in class after exposure to the virus as long as everyone is properly masked. Mask-optional policies mean more students face quarantine.

Union County Public Schools is the largest district still allowing staff and students to go unmasked inside schools. At the end of the first week of school, the district had 176 COVID-19 cases and almost 1,900 of its 40,000 students quarantined.

Tilson told the state board that 72 K-12 schools have active COVID-19 clusters, defined as five or more cases that appear to be linked to school spread. Those include Union County's Parkwood High and Iredell-Statesville's Lake Norman High.

Most public schools in North Carolina opened last week. Tilson said so far many of the clusters come from athletics rather than classrooms, similar to last year.

"A lot in our sports teams, our athletic teams, in football, in cheerleading ... we are continuing to see the same patterns, a higher increase in those clusters in those higher risk activities," she said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has two active clusters, at Independence and Ardrey Kell high schools. The district has said both are linked to teams.

The state is offering money to help schools launch COVID-19 testing to diagnose people with symptoms and/or screen unvaccinated people. So far 73 districts, 65 charter schools and 88 private schools have signed up, according to state school health nurse consultant Ann Nichols.

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Corrected: September 2, 2021 at 3:33 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly named one of the closed schools, based on information provided by the district.
This story was updated at 4:50 p.m. to reflect the closing of two additional schools.
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.