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More than 40,000 students start first day of school for Union County Public Schools

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 4:14 PM EDT
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UNION COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Union County Public Schools welcomed back 41,000 students Monday morning.

Masks are optional for students and staff.

The board of education voted for masks to be optional in July and again last week after a recommendation from the health department to mandate masks at the Aug. 18 board meeting.

“We encourage everyone to have that personal choice if that’s what they wish,” Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan said.

Houlihan says principals have been very flexible with parents and students on implementing this policy.

He also says school staff are working closely with the health department to monitor COVID-19 cases and are continuing contact tracing and other COVID-19 protocols.

“We’re managing the school system on a day-to-day basis. We’ll pivot when we need to and we’ll make adjustments along the way,” he said.

Fifth-grader Liam Preston told WBTV he was excited to be back in the classroom with his friends.

“It was kinda weird but at the same time I was glad that everyone was there and not sick,” Preston said.

Preston said that he wore a mask, and about half of his class did as well.

“Actually, really surprised that half my class was wearing one and keeping them on as well because they might just come into a school because their parents say so and just take them off and don’t wear them,” he added.

Many parents say they’re excited their children are in school five days a week full time, especially after spending months learning remotely last school year.

“They’re doing everything they can to keep them safe and the best place for them is to be in the school,” said parent Alicia Preston.

Preston’s two sons went to elementary school Monday morning. While she’s excited for them to interact with friends and their teachers, she’s still uneasy as COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the county and state.

“I’m nervous because [there are] more kids this year that are going to be in the classroom and not everyone is wearing a mask. I know masks aren’t 100%, but it’s still an extra layer there that can help,” Preston said.

Nerissa Tyson’s three children also started school Monday morning. Tyson says regardless of what people choose for masks, she says being in school is what’s best for all students.

“In this setting with hands-on learning is going to be the best for them to start out. I just pray that they stay in school five days a week. If we have to mandate masks, we have to mandate masks, as long as the kids get to be around each other,” Tyson said.

The Goswami sisters were very excited to start the year off in person after learning remotely all last school year.

“I’m excited. I’m kind of nervous; it’s going to be really different going to a much bigger school,” said ninth-grader Navya Goswami.

Eleventh-grader Nandini Goswami says while masks are optional she’s keeping hers on after battling COVID-19 last year, something she doesn’t want to repeat again.

“I had COVID last year so I wasn’t a fan of that so I’d rather be with my mask on,” Nandini Goswami said.

For students who do have to quarantine, UCPS has a three-tiered support system to make sure students don’t fall behind in their course work. This includes online instruction, phone calls, emails, tutoring, small group and individual instruction.

  • Tier I: Traditional school day/after-school support
  • Tier II: After-school/weekend support
  • Tier III: District tutors

UCPS is not offering remote learning this school year but high school students can sign up for online courses through the county’s UC Virtual program.

For more information on UC Virtual, click here.

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