The Iredell-Statesville Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to make face masks optional for staff and students and provide N95 masks for high-risk students and staff who want them.

The board also decided the district will stop excluding asymptomatic students/staff who are possibly exposed to COVID-19 regardless of whether the close contact is in school, the household, or in the community.

The changes in district’s COVID-19 policies take effect immediately.

The district will continue to exclude positive cases of COVID-19 per the control measure recommended by state and federal public health officials.

I-SS will also provide the option of testing to allow staff and students who have symptoms but test negative to remain in school to the greatest extent possible.

Under the board’s direction, the district will no longer contact every individual close contact and instead will focus on broader notifications, such as notifying an entire class or team when there is a positive case.

All of these changes were approved unanimously, which brought a round of applause and cheering by many in the boardroom.

“I’ve prayed for this day for a long time. I’m thrilled,” said board member Martin Page.

It’s been a very stressful situation, he explained.

“I’m just proud that this board has looked at what was going on locally and worked to keep kids in class. Our tests (scores) were very good for midterm. We were recognized for the least amount of learning loss. I’m proud of this board and what we’ve done,” Page said.

Shepherd Elementary School second-grade student Isaac Thompson was among those who were excited about the changes in the district’s policies. He stepped up to the podium during the public comment period to tell the board he is currently excluded from school.

“I love my school. I love my teacher and I love my friends … I was very disappointed when I learned that I had to be excluded from school even though I’m a perfectly healthy child,” he said.

I-SS Superintendent Jeff James told Isaac and his mom that since the exclusion rule had been dropped, he and other students who have been excluded can return to school on Tuesday.

Isaac was thrilled and uplifted by that news as his mom gave him a hug.

I-SS principals said they were pleased to see the policy change governing exclusions because they want healthy students to be in the classroom. Cloverleaf Elementary School, for example, had to exclude around 40 percent of its students, which is around 175 students, at the beginning of the school year.

The superintendent said he has spent a considerable amount of time in ZOOM meetings discussing COVID-19 and evaluating the local data during the past week.

“It’s not an easy decision because there are two sides to this. If you look at the data over the past two months it’s steadily going down,” James said.

The N.C. Department of Health & Human Services amended the exclusion control measure, no longer requiring exclusion of close contacts who are asymptomatic. NCDHHS also has changed the recommendation and no longer requires contact tracing in the K-12 setting. Exclusion of positive and symptomatic cases will still be required

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