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5 Things To Know: State Recommends Changes in COVID Policy for Schools

...and four more stories from Feb. 6-12, 2022

school COVID policy
The NC DHHS released a new toolkit to recommend changes in COVID policy for schools Thursday. (AdobeStock)

State recommends changes in COVID policy for schools

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) on Thursday released a new COVID-19 toolkit with updated safety recommendations for COVID policy in public schools. In the toolkit, DHHS announced it no longer recommends contact tracing or quarantining for asymptomatic students who have been exposed to COVID-19. If adopted by CMS, the changes will go into effect on Feb. 21. 

DHHS still recommends that students and school employees who test positive for COVID-19 or show COVID-19 symptoms quarantine for five or more days, and that areas of “high COVID-19 spread” retain a mask mandate in schools for everyone over the age of 2. The toolkit states that schools could consider discontinuing universal masking once the CDC designates local COVID-19 spread levels as moderate or low. 

During a visit to a Goldsboro daycare center on Thursday morning, Gov. Roy Cooper commented on the guideline changes. 

“I’m pleased and hopeful that we can get back to normal lives with the understanding that we’re all going to need to do things to make sure that we protect ourselves, dependent upon the risk,” Cooper said.

Later that day, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) addressed the toolkit changes in an email to district families, stating that district leaders will figure out to “what extent our pandemic-response protocols may be adjusted when the new guidance takes effect.” 

CMS has generally complied with all DHHS COVID-19 recommendations while implementing COVID policy in schools, required or otherwise, throughout the pandemic. However, the email also said the district will work with Mecklenburg County health officials to calculate next steps. The email emphasized that universal masking remains a requirement in all CMS facilities. 

Update expected on county mask mandate

During a Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners strategy meeting on Tuesday, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington discussed the potential for changing the indoor mask mandate. If COVID-19 metrics continued to drop, he said, he may propose ending the mandate at the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 15. 

The local indoor mask mandate was initially passed in August 2021 during a surge in COVID-19 infections, largely due to the rapid spread of the Delta variant. Mecklenburg County’s original metric for ending the mask mandate was a 5% test-positivity rate. As of Feb. 6, the rate remained above 20%, though the number has been decreasing over the past week. Washington also cited the diminishing numbers of hospitalizations and cases as cause for confidence.

“This is really encouraging news,” said Washington.

If Washington recommends repealing the mandate at Tuesday’s meeting, BOCC could vote to do so that night and the repeal could be effective as early as the next day. 

New Details Emerge Around Scarborough Absence

On Monday, WBTV reported that commissioner Ella Scarborough, who the BOCC recently announced would be taking a medical leave of absence, initially requested medical leave as early as October 2021. 

Scarborough has not attended a meeting in person since the pandemic began. She last attended a meeting virtually in October. 

According to emails obtained by WBTV, Scarborough first requested 60 days of medical leave on Oct. 24, which county leaders granted. A status update came on Dec. 29.

“Pray everyone had a wonderful and restful holiday with your loved ones. I’m writing today to inform you that I will be out for the foreseeable future as I am still dealing with health challenges. I look forward to returning to serve the residents of Mecklenburg County very soon,” the message said.

Ella Scarborough. (Courtesy of Mecklenburg County)

Last week, county commissioners officially announced Scarborough’s request for medical leave. However, no commissioner has offered an explanation for these previous periods of medical leave, which constituents apparently have not been informed of. 

During a recess in the Feb. 8 meeting, at which BOCC voted to approve paid medical leave for Scarborough, a terse exchange between WBTV reporter David Hodges and Commissioner George Dunlap took place. Hodges asked Dunlap multiple questions about Scarborough’s absence and his “failure” to inform constituents of her requests for medical leave. 

Dunlap replied, “You are unethical and I told you that more than a year ago! And I’m not gonna answer any questions. I don’t care what you ask … WBTV – and you – are unethical.”

Child porn scandal rocks Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools

Community House Middle School teacher Adrian Wayne Taylor was arrested in his home on child pornography charges on Tuesday. Taylor, who teaches journalism and debate, was suspended with pay the same day.

According to a CMPD release, the department partnered with the FBI to launch an investigation into Taylor’s activities in November 2021. CMPD stated in a news release that Taylor used the file-sharing program BitTorrent to share “visual representations” of child pornography. He is charged with three felony counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. 

According to Community House Principal Brian Slattery and CMS spokesperson Patrick Smith, neither the school nor the district knew about the investigation. Slattery has kept close contact with students and their families throughout the week. On Tuesday, he acknowledged the arrest in a message to Community House families. 

“I take these matters very seriously and will be working with law enforcement to address them in a manner that ensures the well-being of all students and is in accordance with district policies,” Slattery said.

In a message sent on Wednesday, Slattery said counselors met with Taylor’s class collectively. Counseling is also available to individual students. 

“It is my goal to provide our students with a consistent school experience while limiting disruption to their class,” he said.

New Street Name Changes Announced by Legacy Commission

On Thursday, the City of Charlotte Legacy Commission, which is tasked with rechristening public spaces named for white supremacists and Confederates, announced upcoming changes to two more street names in the city. Carnegie Boulevard will be extended to replace Morrison Boulevard, and East/West Hill streets will be split into four separate streets, each with new names.

Morrison Boulevard was named for Cameron A. Morrison, who served as North Carolina governor from 1921-25. Prior to successfully running for governor on a white supremacist platform, Morrison was a prominent member of the Red Shirts, a paramilitary group that sought to intimidate Black voters throughout rural North Carolina. Originally from Richmond County, Morrison settled in Charlotte after his governorship. Instead of getting a new name, the street named for him will become a part of Carnegie Boulevard. 

Hill Street was named for Daniel H. Hill, a Confederate Army officer who lived in Charlotte. Prior to the Civil War, Hill worked at Washington College (later Washington and Lee University) and Davidson College, eventually becoming the principal of the North Carolina Military Academy in Charlotte. When the war began, he joined the Confederate Army and led a local regiment called the Charlotte Greys to take over the local branch of the U.S. Mint (now the Mint Museum Randolph).

Hill Street, which runs through Uptown, will be split into four thoroughfares and renamed Westmere Avenue, Stadium View Drive, Civil Street and Good Samaritan Way. Good Samaritan Way will be named in honor of the Good Samaritan Hospital. Built in 1891, it was the first private medical center in North Carolina serving Black Charlotteans.  

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