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School COVID-19 clusters intensify 'mask optional' debate between parents, school boards

The outbreaks have forced some schools to reverse course and make masks mandatory for all.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Roughly a dozen people rallied outside the Mooresville Graded School District’s administrative offices Friday morning, showing their disapproval of a new mask mandate.

On Aug 6. – just four days after the start of the new school year -- Stephen Mauney, superintendent of schools for MGSD said the district would be reversing its decision on masks, citing more than 80 students currently in quarantine.

The school had originally made masks optional.

“I understand that this decision will not make everyone happy,” said Mauney. “But it is the decision that needs to be made at this point to keep our kids in school.”

Mauney also cited the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 County Alert System, which had moved Iredell County from a “yellow” county with significant community spread up to an “orange county” with substantial community spread.

But some parents Friday, voiced their displeasure with the decision.

Jay Goodman said he joined the rally, “not to be mandated, not for someone to tell us this is what you need to do in order for your kids to get into school.”

He said he believes parents should have the choice.

“I’m not against a mask, I’m not for a mask, I’m for the parent’s choice to do what they need to do for their kids because at the end of the day parents know what’s best for their children,” said Goodman.

Experts however disagree. Everyone from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the American Academy of Pediatrics, to local doctors on the frontlines, all say masks should be worn inside schools.

“COVID is a virus, it spreads in the air, kids should be wearing masks, they should be mandatory in schools and that’s my opinion as an ER doctor and as a father and as someone who has been on the front lines for 16 months,” said Dr. David Callaway, chief of operational and disaster medicine at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center.

This week doctors at Duke University also warned that while COVID symptoms in children remain mild, new, more contagious and more deadly variants are on the horizon, including the Lambda variant.

“Although the mortality rate in children is low, somewhere between 2 and 5 per 100,000 infected, when you consider a state of 1.5 million children, 2 per 100,000 starts to add up to some deaths that’s eventually going to be noticeable,” said Dr. Danny Benjamin, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Duke University School of Medicine.

Mooresville however, not the only school district to see COVID outbreaks.

Union Academy Charter School in Monroe, which returned to school July 26 with masks optional, had upwards of 30 positive cases in the first week. By Saturday, the school’s board reversed course, and instead put a universal mask mandate in place.

According to the school’s COVID-19 dashboard, the school is now up to 49 positive cases and more than 150 staff and students in quarantine.

“If we had been fully masked – all of our staff and students last week -- we would have had 14 or 15 students in quarantine, not 150,” the school’s headmaster, John Marshall told WCNC earlier this week.

Thales Academy, a private K-7 school in Union County, which is also mask optional, is also seeing a COVID-19 outbreak.

Concerned parents contacted WCNC Tuesday, after a message from the school notified parents that despite an exposure or close contact to COVID-19, quarantining would also be optional and a decision authorized to be made by parents.

The school told WCNC they were not interested in commenting on the matter. They have not publicly said how many students or staff have tested positive, but parents they were aware of at least 6 cases.

Meanwhile, a group of Cabarrus County parents and teachers, who’ve been watching the outbreaks unfold at neighboring school districts say they plan to rally outside the district’s Education Center, located at 4401 Old Airport Road, Monday, Aug. 9 at 4 p.m.

The group is in support of universal masking. Their slogan, “Mask Up to Open Up.”

Contact Ashley Daley at adaley@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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