Asheboro City Schools drops mask mandate

ASHEBORO — On the day North Carolina’s Speaker of the House called for an end to K-12 masking and quarantine policies, Asheboro City Schools took a first step. In a 10-1 vote, the city schools voted Thursday night to drop mask requirements. The change will go into effect Feb. 21.

Randolph County Schools dropped mask rules in November.

The Union County School Board voted this week to end contact tracing and quarantines. Randolph County had previously voted to limit contact tracing by school system personnel in November. School Board member Fred Burgess championed the move to report positive cases to the health department saying at the time, “We are not supposed to do contact tracing. It is the health department that does contact tracing.” State law requires schools to report information on certain communicable diseases to the local health director.

In Asheboro, the city school district reported seven positive cases among faculty and 28 student cases. 58 students were in quarantine for in-school and non-school related reasons for the week that ended Feb. 2

According to sources within Randolph County Schools, contact tracing and quarantines are still significant causes of student and faculty absences. In neighboring Stanly County, the school system superintendent cited COVID-related quarantines as the reason for a spike in teacher absences and a lack of available substitutes.

The N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services updated guidance on quarantines in January to allow students and staff who had a close contact to remain in school if they had not developed symptoms or tested positive. That policy — known as “test to stay” — had been under consideration by NCDHHS months before the CDC announced test to stay in December. The Department added the option in January.

Updates added to the toolkit in February include dropping contact tracing and alterations to some quarantine policies but kept indoor mask usage in place for all children five and up.

In a press release, interim NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley said the updates are “the right approach for this point in the pandemic” and said it “includes flexibility for local schools and health departments to use data to make informed decisions and respond to local conditions.”

The main update to the StrongSchools NC Toolkit says, “Individual contact tracing and exclusion from school of asymptomatic people after an identified exposure is no longer recommended statewide in K-12 schools.”

Asheboro’s move brings the system in line with a growing number of public school districts around the state. “I am thrilled with our decision to finally move forward with mask optional,” said school board member Hailey Lee. “This decision gives students and parents the choice to do what they feel is best for themselves.” Lee was elected in November.

Before voting, the board heard public comments. One parent, Rachel Haggerty, said she pulled her children from public schools due to mask mandates. Haggerty said her second grader was suffering mentally and academically during the 2020-21 school year. “She began falling extremely behind in school, so much so that we are repeating 2nd grade this year,” said Haggerty. “As a mother, I know her troubles were from three things: masks,social distancing in school and virtual learning.”

The change in Asheboro comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidance that said cloth masks — which have been the requirement promoted by Gov. Roy Cooper in his executive orders — are the least effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission.

School board member Gwen Williams was the lone vote to continue a mask mandate in Asheboro City Schools.

By Randolph Record