UNION COUNTY, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) — In all of about three minutes, it became official. Masks will still be optional in Union County Public Schools, COVID-19 contact tracing at the schools will come from the county’s health department, and quarantining of students will be recognized.
But even with some backtracking and changes from last week’s emergency meeting, some parents expected more.
“Part of me thought, after hearing what (NCDHHS Secretary) Mandy Cohen had to say, that we would see some changes. I’m at least happy to see that there’s some contact tracing back,” said one parent, who wished not to give her name.
The parent we spoke with has three children within the school system, and one of them, her youngest, has asthma which puts them at higher risk to be affected by COVID-19.
“We have a proportion of children who don’t have the option to wear masks, or it is challenging for them,” she said.
Union County’s school board has been facing a lot from all sides the past few weeks. Some of that has been support, some of it vocal, for their relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions. People are still supporting the board’s stance last week to end contact tracing on the school level, and to loosen quarantine guidelines.
However, once the threat of legal action came from the North Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services, the board met again Monday to reverse some of what they had decided the week before.
Parents in support of the state’s actions said contact tracing needed to be done by the school, as they were more aware of the situations and surroundings for each individual child.
“Being threatened with a lawsuit likely had them do at least the minimal amount that they did,” said Stephanie Smith Lee.
Lee has grandchildren in the Union County Public Schools system, but also serves as a policy advisor for the National Down Syndrome Congress. Lee said studies have shown that children with Down Syndrome are more likely to be affected by and to die from COVID-19.
“They’re deeply worried about their children and everyone else in the county, and are doing their best to try and contact the appropriate officials to get some action on this,” said Lee, who is for universal masking in schools to protect those who may be more susceptible to COVID due to medical conditions.
In a statement from Union County Public Schools on the decision, they noted quarantines would be recognized.
“These students will not be allowed back in school until completion of their quarantine orders from Union County Public Health,” a district spokesperson said.
The change is a small step for parents, who want more of a giant leap from the school system, and perhaps the state.
Governor Roy Cooper has been asked about the possibility of a mask mandate in schools. In recent statements, he has noted that districts need to be following guidelines in regards to contact tracing and quarantine, but the decision on masking would be left up to the district.
Union County is one of a handful of counties in North Carolina who have a ‘mask optional’ policy.