Lincoln County schools join Union County in loosening COVID protocols

LINCOLN COUNTY, N.C. — The Lincoln County School District is joining Union County in loosening COVID-19 protocols and ditching most quarantine situations.

Here are the changes that were approved by the board of education on Tuesday night:

  • Masks will be optional effective September 29.
  • Students are expected to be in school unless they test positive for COVID, are symptomatic or have been given a quarantine order by the health department.

Heather Rhyne, the school board’s vice chair made the motion and pushed for the quarantine changes.

“A parent has a right if there is not a written quarantine order, that is simply a request,” she said.

During the meeting, State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson advised the board that COVID control measures like vaccines, masks and quarantines are the best way to ensure student and staff safety. But the motion still passed easily, to the dismay of some board members.

“Dr. Tilson said we need to wear masks and we have local medical professionals that say we need to wear masks for 30 days. Why would we adopt a policy from a board member that has no medical background?” asked board member Joan Avery.

The new Lincoln County policy is similar to Union County’s. The only people who have to stay home are those who tested positive or show symptoms.

Parents like Tasha Alexander told Channel 9 they’re concerned that the virus will spread exponentially with the relaxed rules.

“I think they should wear them, keep the germs down,” she said. “It’s safer for the kids.”

If students don’t test positive for COVID or show symptoms, they’re expected to be in school, in-person. Although there is no longer an online school option, students can still opt to wear face coverings.

Mom Katie Shaffer said they’ll mask up their students.

“If their mask protects them like they’re supposed to and they wear it like they’re supposed to, it’s still optional,” she said. “Send your kids with a mask and if you choose not to, don’t.”

Other parents told Channel 9 that masks should be required for everyone, but Shaffer disagrees, saying the school board shouldn’t be the ones to decide what’s best for her family.

“We have to have our rights as a parent,” she told Channel 9. “That should be our option.”

Public health experts said masking inside school buildings prevents the spread of COVID-19, but now it will be up to families -- and Alexander hopes her daughter stays healthy.

“As long as she keeps her mask on and sanitizes her hands -- and pray about it -- I think she’ll be safe,” she said.

At Tuesday night’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board of education meeting, one parent called on the district to temporarily stop playing sports against Union County schools, as well as other extracurricular activities.

“I have been watching the debacle in Union County with horror and dismay,” said parent Megan Carmilani.

As neighboring districts loosen COVID restrictions, CMS is enhancing theirs. The district is requiring all 19,000 employees to prove they have been vaccinated or take mandatory weekly COVID tests.

That plan will be rolled out at the end of the month. CMS will also continue to require masks.

“Mask optional is not safe,” said another parent, Staci Staggs. “Failure to contact trace and failure to quarantine exposed individuals is not safe.”

A few CMS teachers spoke out against the new policy, questioning why the school board didn’t vote on it and why vaccinated staff members aren’t subject to same tough testing protocols.

“I urge everyone to stand up and fight back,” said teacher Kaitline Reid. “CMS has no right to force any individual to do anything against the best interest of their medical health.”

The tough debates and discussions over what COVID measures should be in place at school will continue to happen regularly. A new state law requires school boards to vote on masks every month.

(WATCH BELOW: Union County schools stop COVID contact tracing, quarantining for non-positive students, staff)