MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners recently voted in favor of enacting a county-wide mask mandate that will be effective on Aug. 28, 2021. Notably, Health Director Gibbie Harris said private schools will also need to follow the mandate.
However, the superintendent of at least one private school system in the county said they were exempt, despite what Harris said verbally. Now, the new county-wide policy is clear: all schools will need everyone masked up indoors, be they public, private, or parochial.
The amendment mandate was published early Monday afternoon and said everyone ages 5 and up inside any school campus will need to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status. The mandate also extends to both public and private businesses. However, there are exceptions: someone with a medical or behavioral condition that would result in trouble breathing while wearing a mask would be exempt, for example, and masks can be dropped while eating or drinking. That being said, documentation is not required, and largely operates on an honor code.
Private school confusion on Mecklenburg County mask mandate:
The confusion surrounding non-public schools was brought to WCNC Charlotte's attention on Thursday, Aug. 19. In a letter sent to parents obtained by WCNC Charlotte, Dr. Gregory Monroe, the superintendent of Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools (MACS) originally said the new mandate itself did not reference schools and that MACS campuses would stay mask-optional for students, families, and staff. However, Monroe said MACS was still keeping an eye on health data and safety guidance, promising the schools had "multi-layered health protocols" in place.
"We believe parents and guardians know their children best, so we respect their ability to choose when it is appropriate for their student to wear a face covering," part of Monroe's letter reads. "The delta variant, while more contagious, has not been shown to put children at higher risk of severe complications."
Monroe's letter says last year, MACS provided in-person learning with different masking options at schools and says current data with their own experience showed their schools are not places of high-risk virus spread. He again reiterated protection measures like deep sanitization, contact tracing, and more.
WCNC Charlotte did check the text of the mandate and can confirm the mandate itself did not reference schools at the time. When asked about Monroe's letter, the Diocese of Charlotte backed him and noted the mandate's actual text.
On Friday, Mecklenburg County Public Health responded to a request for comment from WCNC Charlotte. In their statement, the department said although it wasn't made clear in the mandate proclamation and rule documents that schools were to be included as public areas, the intent was still there. The department said they've spoken with Monroe, and plan to revise the rule to explicitly include all schools, including public, private, and parochial campuses. The full statement follows:
There have been multiple questions about how the Mask Mandate Proclamation and Rule pertains to schools in Mecklenburg County. Although it was not spelled out in the language, the intent of both documents was that schools were to be included as public spaces and environments. In conversation this morning with Dr. Monroe, Superintendent of the MACS, I clarified the intent of the Rule as it pertains to all schools. One of the main drivers for the necessity of a mask mandate is the need to protect our children as they return to school and to ensure ongoing in-school education for them as we manage our way through the current surge of COVID-19 cases in our community. While I understand and appreciate the intent of the MACS option for masking, I believe that all schools should be part of the mask mandate to accomplish this intent.
To clarify that intent, we are working to revise the Rule to clarify that all schools in Mecklenburg County are covered by the mask mandate. This Rule applies to public, private, and parochial schools in our community.
Monroe issued a statement via email at 8 p.m. on Friday in response to Mecklenburg County Public Health clarifying the health rule.
You can read the full statement below:
We appreciate the Mecklenburg County Health Department’s efforts to clarify the intent and revise the language of its mask mandate. After conversations with the County today, we understand they intended for schools to be covered by the mask mandate, including private and parochial schools – even though these schools are not public places or establishments covered in the initial Public Health Rule. We will review the revised Rule and adjust our operations as necessary. We remain committed to safely providing in-person instruction and as normal a learning environment as possible, as we have done since the beginning of the pandemic. Nothing is more important to us than the health and well-being of our families, staff and students, and the continued holistic development of bodies, minds and souls.
On Sunday, MACS sent an update to the district's parents and guardians, stating "once we receive any new rules from the County may adopt we will review the language and adjust our operations as necessary at the time."
MACS moves to comply with Meck County mask mandate:
Shortly after Mecklenburg County released the new revisions on their mask mandate to include the mask requirement for everyone ages 5 and up inside any school campus, MACS issued a letter to parents that stated their plans to "observe the mandate at all Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools."
Starting on Aug. 25, unless parents have completed the exemption form, students at MACS still be required to wear a mask while on campus.
The complete statement is below: