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In final mask-optional days, Iredell-Statesville Schools quarantines 2,000 students

ISS Sharon Elementary Jeff James.jpeg
Superintendent Jeff James
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Iredell-Statesville Schools
Students at Iredell-Statesville's Sharon Elementary School in September, when masks were required.

Iredell-Statesville Schools sent students at eight schools into remote learning because of COVID-19 during the last few days before winter break, the district reported Wednesday.

Like most districts in the Charlotte area, ISS has moved between mask-optional and mask-mandatory status, opening schools with face coverings required and dropping that mandate in November. Earlier this month the school board voted to require masks when schools reopen Jan. 5.

The final COVID-19 report before the break shows why: 84 students tested positive in the last four school days, and more than 2,000 students were required to stay home because of exposure at school or in the community.

State COVID-19 rules for schools require unvaccinated students to quarantine after school exposure unless everyone is masked. The report indicates 1,989 students were excluded from school because of school exposure, representing more than 9% of all students. With another 224 quarantined because of community exposure, that means more than 10% were sent home.

The district says 33 of the student COVID cases were related to school spread and 10 were related to athletics.

The district moved into remote learning at East Iredell, Troutman and Third Creek middle schools; Union Grove, Shepherd and Lake Norman elementary schools; The Brawley School and Pressly School.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which has consistently required masks indoors, reported 211 student cases in its most recent weekly COVID-19 report. That's about 2.5 times as many cases as Iredell-Statesville had, in a district that has seven times as many students.

But the big difference was in student quarantines: CMS reported 399 last week, not quite 20% the number at ISS.

On Monday Governor Roy Cooper urged schools to step up their game on protecting students from the omicron-variant surge expected in January. Health Secretary Mandy Cohen says that means getting students vaccinated and requiring masks indoors.

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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.