Randolph County Schools keep masks optional

In this May 18, 2021 file photo, fifth graders wearing face masks are seated at proper social distancing spacing in a classroom. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

ASHEBORO — The Randolph County School Board voted again Monday night to keep masks optional in the county’s largest school system. The vote came two weeks after a special called meeting where the system voted to end mask requirements and to stop contact tracing.

Gathered in their regular meeting room, the elected officials were not wearing masks. Superintendent Stephen Gainey, who has worn a mask during recent public meetings when seated with the board, was also not wearing a mask.

Following a lengthy closed session where the board consulted with its attorneys, the board retuned to its action item agenda. The group adopted a new mask policy Monday, weighing comments of lawyers who said certain federal laws required masks on buses and might impact certain classrooms where federal funding was used for specific students.

The board also addressed contact tracing. However, the board explained that contact tracing was not the responsibility of the school system but the county health department. “We are required by law to report positive cases to the health department,” said board member Fred Burgess. “That’s what we’re going to do.” The board did not reinstate its previous contact tracing policy.

A state statute, §130A-145, gives local health directors the power to quarantine. It does not allow the health department to require other agencies or private businesses to enforce the health department’s rules. “We are not supposed to do contact tracing,” said Burgess. “It is the health department that does contact tracing.”

The board also discussed another state statute, §130A-136, which requires a school principal to report information on communicable diseases to the local health director. “We do have to help them [the health department] in certain cases and that’s what we’ll do,” said Burgess.

The board’s new policy says they will cooperate with the health department. Board chair Gary Cook stated the health department is “assisting us more than they have before.”

“Our principals are going to report positive cases to the health department,” said Burgess in an interview with the North State Journal. “We will follow the law.”

The vote means that parents, students and teachers will have a choice on whether to wear a mask. But contact tracing could mean the health department might call parents and order them to quarantine a student. Based on the board’s new policy, that call would not be from the school system. The state statute says a quarantine is only allowed when “all other reasonable means for correcting the problem have been exhausted, and no less restrictive alternative exists.” The statute also allows a person who is placed under quarantine by the health department to request a hearing in Superior Court to review the quarantine order. That hearing would have to be heard within 72 hours of the request, according to state law.

The school board meeting coincided with a vote in Guilford County to lift their countywide indoor mask mandate. Randolph County has not imposed a countywide mask mandate.

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