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Union County School And Health Officials Agree To Work Together On COVID-19 Quarantines

A class session at Union County's Parkwood Middle School, where masks inside are optional. Last week eight students at the school tested positive and just over 200 were quarantined.
Union County Public Schools Facebook
A class session at Union County's Parkwood Middle School, where masks inside are optional.

Union County Public Schools, one of North Carolina's few mask-optional school districts, Wednesday reached an agreement with county health officials to work together on quarantines.

Most districts require masks, which reduces the need for quarantines when students are exposed to COVID-19. When school board members became alarmed at having more than 7,100 students excluded from school because of exposure, they voted Sept. 13 to bring students back in violation of state rules.

The school board said legal responsibility for contact tracing and quarantines falls to the health department and declined to participate. Ever since, the district has been at odds with local and state health officials, with Health Secretary Mandy Cohen threatening legal action.

Wednesday's agreement outlines ways Union County school and health staff will work together:

  • Whichever body first learns of a COVID-19 case in students or employees will notify the other.
  • When a case is identified, the district will provide the health department information about likely close contacts inside schools.
  • The health department will follow up with contacting people who have to quarantine.
  • The school district will enforce the county's quarantine orders.

The formal agreement was released after Union County commissioners and the county health board spent about 90 minutes in a closed-session meeting with lawyers to discuss the school quarantine situation.
School districts across the country face heated debate over masks. North Carolina law requires districts to vote on mask policies every month. According to the North Carolina School Boards Association's running tally, Union County is currently one of four districts allowing staff and students to go without masks. Lincoln County just joined that list Wednesday.

Next week Avery County will switch from mask-optional to mask-mandatory, while Harnett and Pender counties will do the opposite.

See the memorandum outlining the agreement below.

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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.