Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Changes COVID-19 Advice for Schools

Cranfill Sumner LLP

Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP

Throughout this COVID-19 era, school boards and other educational entities responsible for operating schools throughout the country have had to remain nimble, patient, innovative, compassionate, communicative, and ready to change course in a moment’s notice, i.e. be proverbial acrobats.  Just a little over two weeks ago, several North Carolina schools operating in Mecklenburg County had to implement these acrobatic principles as they scrambled to re-evaluate their educational delivery methods as a result of a “directive” from the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director.

Based on Mecklenburg County experiencing “the highest number of COVID-19 cases and related-deaths of any County in North Carolina since the beginning of the Pandemic,” on 12 January 2021, amongst other “directives,” the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director “directed” individuals in Mecklenburg County to “utilize full-virtual options for work, school, and any other activity where in-person activity is not required” through 2 February 2021.  As a result of the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director’s directive, several schools changed plans to offer in-person learning until after 2 February 2021.

Well, the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director has just changed what she advised just a little over two weeks prior.  On 29 January 2021, the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director issued a revised directive providing that although the current metrics “represent a slight decrease over the past three weeks, this exponential growth in the number of cases, hospitalizations and the related deaths require ongoing action on the part of every member of our community.”  With that said however, the “directive” no longer “directs” individuals to utilize full-virtual options for schools.  In reliance on the “CDC study released earlier this week,” the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director stated that “with appropriate safety measures in place, schools can be a safe location for students to learn and for school staff to support that learning.  Public Health continues to be supportive of in classroom learning as the optimal option for our youth.”  The referenced CDC study, based in part on data derived from North Carolina schools, found that there is “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission” of COVID-19.

Thus, even though the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director “directed” individuals to “utilize full virtual options for . . . school” until 2 February 2021, in a little over two weeks later, the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director expressly endorses schools as a “safe location” for student learning and a “safe location” for school staff to support that learning.  It is important to note that with the exception of the advice for schools, there were no other substantive revisions to the other restrictions from the 12 January 2021 “directive.”

With that said, this is the question schools in Mecklenburg County will have to answer.  Will the weight of the Public Health Director’s advice causing schools to actively re-evaluate in-person learning models now hold the same weight to cause schools to actively re-evaluate their full virtual learning models?  Staying true to their acrobatic prowess, I suspect that for several schools in Mecklenburg County, the answer is “Yes.” 

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Cranfill Sumner LLP

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