With students across the Iredell-Statesville Schools district returning to the classrooms this week, teachers, families and school officials hope to return to some semblance of normalcy following a year that included remote and in-person learning.

Gov. Roy Cooper left it up to the local school boards to decide whether or not they would require students and staff to wear face masks in schools.

Some school districts voted to make face masks optional in the classroom. But as the spread of the Delta variant has increased, some of those boards have voted to reverse that decision.

During an I-SS Board of Education meeting this summer, the board unanimously approved a resolution to make face masks optional for the 2021-2022 school year. There’s no sign that they are reconsidering.

Face coverings remain optional for all employees and students, although masks are required by federal law on school buses.

The board has empowered Superintendent Jeff James to make masks mandatory when necessary.

Mask optional impact on schools

One reason some boards have voted in favor of masks is because unmasked students who are exposed to COVID-19 could be out of school for up to two weeks while they quarantine.

Another negative includes the potential to cause more classroom and school closures. Also, if the number of students in quarantine is significant, it could create more work for teachers.

During the first week of school for I-SS, at least 10 school staff members and 59 students tested positive for COVID-19 for a total of 69 COVID-19 cases.

Almost 1,000 students were placed in quarantine due to possible exposure in school, community contact or due to symptoms.

When does someone have to quarantine?

A close contact is defined as having been “within six feet for 15 minutes or more.” Maintaining the six-foot rule as much as possible will reduce quarantine time for everyone.

• If both students (positive and exposed) are wearing a mask, the exposed student will not have to quarantine. This does not apply for exposures during extracurricular or athletic activities. This exception also does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting. During the first week of school, a total of 53 students were not required to quarantine due to both people masking.

• Fully vaccinated individuals who have been deemed a close contact to a positive COVID-19 case will not have to quarantine unless they are symptomatic.

• If an unvaccinated student or staff member is identified as a close contact (within six feet for 15 minutes or more) to a COVID-19 positive staff member or student, the close contact does have to be quarantined.

Need to Know

• Anyone in a school building who tests positive for the virus will be required to isolate until they meet the criteria for returning to school.

• If there are known transmissions within an I-SS school, families will be notified as was done in the previous school year.

If COVID-19 cases increase, there are additional precautionary measures that will be implemented:
• If there is a cluster, which is five or more positive COVID-19 cases in a setting, masks will be required until that school is no longer deemed a cluster.
• If there are two or more positive COVID-19 cases in a K-5 classroom, that class will mask for two weeks.
• In grades 6-8, if there is a substantial spread within a grade level, that grade level may be mandated to mask.
• If community spread reaches the RED level in Iredell County, all students and staff may be mandated to mask. The school board may change masking policies based on spread.

The district follows StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit for K-12, visit for additional in-depth guidance. Parents can also visit the district’s website and access key metrics, reports and COVID-19 resources.

Students can receive free coronavirus testing at their school with the consent of a parent or guardian.

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