MONROE, N.C. — In a lengthy letter published Friday, Union County Public Health Director Dennis Joyner encouraged the Board of Education for the county's public school district to obey North Carolina's COVID-19 health protocols, which includes recommendations on wearing masks, receiving vaccinations, and quarantine periods.
The school board has a virtual emergency meeting on Monday morning. A COVID-19 update is on the agenda, but it does not specify if masking will be discussed.
In an interview with WCNC Charlotte hours before he sent the letter, Joyner said he’s consistently advised the school board to follow the state's toolkit.
“One of the things that's a key element to the toolkit is requiring masking while indoors for schools," Joyner said. "I clearly support that."
With community transmission high and hospitals stressed, Joyner said masking in schools is an essential way to make the community safer.
“I think we're all in that position right now where we need to do a little more sacrificing,” he said.
Some families are concerned and growing frustrated, including some who had their children pose as school board members for a video they posted online.
For 4th grader Kaylee Testa, it's simple.
“I want everybody to be safe,” the Union County Public School student said.
The version of the Union County school board meeting her family and other concerned parents created and posted online isn't what happened when the school board met on Tuesday.
The Testa family hopes their video will change minds. Kaylee got COVID-19 within the first week of school and her parents believe it could have been avoided.
“I absolutely think that would've protected her. I mean the science shows that it would've been many magnitudes of protection greater than her alone wearing a mask,” her dad, John Testa, said.
It forced her brother Owen, a first-grader, to quarantine too. Luckily, he did not get it.
“I missed my friends,” Owen said.
The Testa family is urging school board members to consider how the kids role-playing their version of the school board meeting feel.
“It's like armor,” Kaylee said of her mask.
The school district updated its weekly coronavirus metrics Friday night, showing approximately 17% of students and staff were home for COVID-related reasons.
Close to 7,900 students and staff were out of the classroom this week, between quarantines and positive cases.
On Tuesday, the Union County Schools Board of Education voted 5-4 to keep masks optional.
"In the absence of other non-pharmaceutical protective measures, such as universal masking, then quarantine becomes the primary tool to protect children in school," Joyner wrote. "Without a universal mask requirement in Union Count Public Schools, a 14-day quarantine period remains the best option to provide for the protection of students, teachers, staff, and members of the community with whom students live and closely interact."
As Joyner also explains, the state guidelines, known as the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit, also recommends:
- Requiring teachers and staff to report vaccination status and requiring unvaccinated teachers to participate in screening/testing programs
- Requiring all children and staff in K-12 schools to wear face coverings consistently when indoors
- Requiring all passengers and staff to wear face coverings on buses, vans, and other group school transportation
- Maintaining a minimum of three (3) feet of distance between K-12 students who are not vaccinated within school settings to the greatest extent possible without excluding students from full-time, in-person learning
In his letter, Joyner defers to the Board of Education to make the decisions but hopes they will enact the state's recommendations.
Ahead of the letter's release, the Board of Education called an emergency meeting for Monday morning. They're expected to discuss COVID-19 protocols.