The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools will require students and staff to wear masks indoors and out when classes resume later this month.
The school board went beyond administration recommendations Tuesday night, approving weekly COVID tests for non-vaccinated staff and face coverings outdoors regardless of physical distance. The policy as originally proposed had recommended masks outdoors when at least 3 feet of physical distance was not possible.
Exceptions to the new policies may be made for those with a medical exemption on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, the district will require weekly COVID-19 testing for those not fully vaccinated who participate or coach in sports, extracurricular, co-curricular and student-led activities. Students with medical or religious exemptions for vaccination can still participate with a mask, according to the new policy.
The district will also put field trips, volunteers and visitors in schools on hold, Superintendent Nyah Hamlett told the board. That policy and the rest will be evaluated quarterly to follow the latest expert advice.
Two parents, each with three children in the district, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. They urged the board to put safety first and, in one case, do whatever was necessary to return student to in-person classes five days a week.
CDC recommends masks in schools
In agenda materials for the meeting, the district noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended universal mask wearing in schools for teachers, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
As of July 29, the Orange County Health Department reported two-thirds of Orange County residents were fully vaccinated.
But the school board materials also state that nearly half of Chapel Hill-Carrboro school employees live outside Orange County.
“We do not currently have a system to measure vaccine status for all staff and students; although, we will soon be in the process of collecting the information from those willing to disclose their vaccination status,” the materials state.
Meanwhile the county’s percentage of COVID tests coming back positive is inching up, as it has across the state.
Orange County’s positivity rate was at 0.4% the week of June 6-12, but increased to 1.3% for the week of July 4-10 and 2.9% for the week of July 11-17, according to the county’s weekly newsletter.
Most of the new cases were among unvaccinated people and were caused by the rapidly spreading delta variant, the materials state.
The city school district, one of two school systems in Orange County, has over 12,000 students. The school year starts Aug. 23.
Some NC school systems making masks optional
At least 38 of the state’s 115 school districts have decided to make face masks optional for this fall, according to a database maintained by the N.C. School Boards Association and district websites. In all but one of those 38 districts, the majority of voters backed Republican Donald Trump in last fall’s presidential election.
Districts that are requiring masks are in predominantly Democratic-leaning areas where voters backed Joe Biden.
The Orange County Schools currently requires masks for all students and staff members indoors, according to its website. Vaccinations are strongly encouraged but not required, the website states.
Durham Public Schools will also start the traditional school year with a mask requirement at all grade levels, spokesman Chip Sudderth said Tuesday. The administration made the decision and will update the school board Aug. 12.
The Wake County Public School System also voted Tuesday night to keep its mask mandate for students and staff.
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