Union County schools end contact tracing, quarantine requirements

UNION COUNTY, N.C. — Union County schools could stop requiring contact tracing as soon as Monday.

In a meeting Tuesday night, Union County Public School board members voted to stop contact tracing and also voted in favor of ending quarantine requirements for students and staff.

The county said its mask-optional policy will stay in place in schools.

The decision follows a resolution that leaders made in December to end COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantines for students -- and the school board hoped other districts would follow their lead.

The Union County Board of Education voted 8-1 on Dec. 7 to approve a joint resolution with the Board of Commissioners in support of ending COVID-19 contact tracing and quarantine requirements for public school students across North Carolina.

Officials wanted the North Carolina Department of Health and Health Services to reevaluate the state’s protocols regarding quarantine and contact tracing to free up school nurses so they could focus on other duties.

[PAST COVERAGE: Union County schools to comply with COVID protocols amid NC lawsuit threat]

“This joint resolution does not diminish the importance of caring for all children who are sick whether from COVID-19, flu or any other communicable disease,” county officials said in a statement.

Concerned parents on both sides of the issue turned out for December’s meeting. While there was some support for the resolution, other parents worried it would put their children in danger and lead to more COVID cases in the classroom.

“To say contact tracing should be made more difficult than it is already is absurd,” said parent Frazer Casey. “You’re just getting rid of safety for students.”

Some parents told Channel 9 they were ready to pull their kids out of Union County Public Schools.

“They’re putting our kids at risk and they’re literally destroying their education,” said parent K. Lee Smith.

Supporters of the resolution believed it was a step toward schools returning to normal and keeping kids in the classroom.

County Commission Chair Dennis Rape told Channel 9 the change would keep kids from having to stay home if they’re considered a close contact of a confirmed case, but asymptomatic.

“We’ve got to move on to the next phase of dealing with COVID,” Rape said.

Smith said the district could end the majority of contact tracing and quarantining if masks had been required from the start. Currently, that’s still a personal choice. She said she took her third-grader out of UCPS because of the relaxed mask rules. She had planned to enroll her son again in January now that he’s vaccinated, but told Channel 9 she’s now back to square one.

“I’m gonna have to rethink all of this because they don’t seem to have any concern for any of our children,” Smith said.

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The joint resolution stated that officials wanted to end contact tracing and quarantining by Jan. 19, 2022.

For now, the school district still has to follow the state’s guidelines when it comes to contract tracing and quarantining. Once leaders send the letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, they’re hoping other counties and school districts follow suit.

In September, the board of education voted to modify its quarantine protocols to comply with the state’s law for the county to lead contact tracing.

The school board agreed to require students who are symptomatic or have tested positive for COVID-19 to stay home, and the district will recognize quarantines in accordance with state law, of students and staff who are considered close contacts with a COVID-19 case.

Union County Public Schools require students who are symptomatic or tested positive for COVID-19 to stay home.

Union County Board of Commissioners statement (Dec. 2021):

“Continuing the long-standing practice of putting the future of Union County first in all decisions, the Union County Board of Commissioners and Union County Board of Education have put forth a joint resolution calling on the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to adjust protocol for contact tracing and quarantine of public school students related to COVID-19.

COVID-19 will continue to be a communicable disease we must address and respond to, and we remain committed to doing so. However, we are at a pivotal point in the pandemic where we must adjust our policies to allow us to rely on tried and true public health practices, as we do for all communicable diseases.

By asking the State to reevaluate the quarantine and contact tracing protocol in schools, it will enable the public health officials and school nurses who have been performing the arduous processes of contact tracing to shift their focus to more productive programs and services.

This joint resolution does not diminish the importance of caring for all children who are sick whether from COVID-19, flu or any other communicable disease.”

(WATCH BELOW: Union County leaders want to end COVID-19 protocols for public school students)