Editor's Note: A previous version of this story said the MOU document was signed by BOE chairperson Melissa Merrell. It was not signed by Merrell. It was signed by Dr. Houlihan.
UNION COUNTY, N.C. — After weeks of tense exchanges between the Union County Board of Education, Union County Public Health, and the state health department, UCPS and UCPH signed a memorandum of understanding on how to handle contact tracing and quarantine protocols.
“The process shares the responsibility of providing information sufficient for public health to do the important task of providing isolation and quarantine measures to students and staff to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools and the community,” a statement from UCPS said in part.
The document was signed by UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan and the Union County manager.
What You Need To Know
- UCPS, county manager sign agreement establishing responsibilities for contact tracing, quarantines
- Agreement comes after weeks of tension among several groups
- Earlier this week, letters back and forth showed further discontent on where responsibilities fell for contact tracing and quarantine orders
“We share a unified goal to protect students, families and the broader Union County community and look forward to our work together,” the statement finished.
A Union County spokesperson released the same statement a few minutes later.
The memorandum comes after weeks of debate, letters and feedback from parents about the Union County Board of Education’s decision to have school employees stop contact tracing and ordering quarantines.
Several members of the board argued the responsibilities for contact tracing and quarantine orders belong to the local health department.
Late last week, Union County Public Health Director Dennis Joyner wrote a letter to UCPS Superintendent Andrew Houlihan, expressing his frustration with the schools’ help in doing the job.
“The Union County Board of Education, however, has taken several actions to prohibit UCPS staff from participating in contact tracing to determine close contacts of positive cases,” Joyner’s letter said in part.
“I am now formally requiring that UCPS personnel begin immediately complying,” Joyner continued.
The three-page letter was sent Friday, September 24. At the end of the letter, Joyner asked for written "affirmation" the schools would comply.
Just a few days later, UCPS sent its own letter back to the health department.
“I appreciate your acknowledgement that it is the statutory duty of Public Health to perform contact tracing responsibilities. My staff will continue to provide information requested to support you and your staff in these responsibilities,” Houlihan wrote back in his own letter, dated September 27.
“I am interpreting your letter to be consistent with what everyone agreed would be the process moving forward through that plan. If that is not your understanding, please let me know immediately,” Houlihan wrote at the end of his letter.
Houlihan wrote in the letter UCPS, UC Public Health, and NCDHHS worked together to create a, “Control Measures in Schools Operational Plan for Isolation and Quarantine.” Two days later, the memorandum was signed between UCPS and UC Public Health.
“Union County Public Health and Union County Public Schools have agreed on a process for identifying and excluding students and staff who are identified as being a positive case or a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19,” it read.