UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Union County Public Schools’ Board of Education voted early Monday morning to send students currently in quarantine back to class, as long as they are not showing symptoms and have not tested positive for COVID-19.
After a lengthy closed session, starting at 7 a.m. Monday, the board met publicly and voted quickly to end contact tracing and quarantine policies for ‘healthy’ students, as described by some members of the board.
The 8-1 vote took just a few minutes, as the board had very limited debate or discussion over the measure.
In recent weeks, board meetings have stretched hours as members passionately debated potential mask mandates and quarantine policies.
Just last week, the board met for nearly four hours in its regular September meeting to debate its mask policy for Union County public school buildings, eventually deciding to keep masks optional.
This morning, they took additional action, voting to effectively end quarantines and contact tracing, claiming UCPS employees never had the legal authority to conduct contract tracing and mandate quarantine in the first place.
“I’d like to make a motion to stop sending healthy people home and that the quarantine protocols be for sick people only. And, that we immediately bring our healthy people back to school and their workplace,” said at-large board member, Jimmy Bention.
In an amendment to his motion, member Gary Sides, District 3, added UCPS employees must immediately stop contact tracing and only report positive cases.
“It is clear that Union County public schools staff does not have the authority to issue quarantine. And, that effects, by law, the students that are currently— have been contacted by UCPS staff that are out on quarantine. That is— if this motion passes would be null and void, except for those that are in isolation due to a positive COVID test,” Sides added.
Soon after, Chairperson Melissa Merrell called a roll call vote.
Member John Kirkpatrick, district one, was the only vote against.
“Effective immediately, Union County public schools employees, staff, nurses halt all activity of contact tracing and quarantine. And, if a student that has currently been sent home on quarantine— they are allowed to come back to school as long as they were not on the positive list and have no symptoms,” Merrell said after the vote.
“Immediately?” Bention asked.
“Immediately, effective immediately,” Merrell replied.
The board meeting ended quickly after the vote, so Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan could communicate with school principals and staff. Board members expressed concern the principals at area schools might turn away students not knowing the policy had changed early Monday morning.
“I think they’re all watching the meeting right now,” Merrell said.
Dr. Houlihan said they would communicate with the schools on multiple levels, including administration, nurses, and individual families impacted by the former quarantine policy.