NC schools to allow both in-person and remote learning for students in August

Updated: Jul. 14, 2020 at 10:50 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Gov. Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina schools will reopen in August under “Plan B,” allowing both in-person and remote learning.

The “Plan B” approach lets students participate in a mix of in-classroom and remote learning. This plan involves some students potentially rotating schedules, with some students not coming onto campus at all.

Schools will also be allowed the option of completely virtual learning, as laid out in N.C.‘s “Plan C.”

Cooper said this plan is “a measured, ballanced approach that will allow children to attend but provide important safety protocols like fewer children in the classroom, social distancing, face masks and more.”

Face coverings will be required for every teacher, staff and student from kindergarten through high school. The governor says studies have shown overwhelmingly that face coverings reduce disease transmission.

To help, the state will be providing at least five reusable face coverings for every student, teacher and staff member. The state has already delivered a two-month supply of thermometers and medical-grade equipment for school nurses.

The governor made the announcement at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The decision comes as North Carolina sees record-high virus hospitalizations and an alarming spike in cases. This is why Cooper also announced that when the current executive order expires Friday, July 17, North Carolina will remain under Safer at Home Phase 2 for three weeks.

Cooper said safety precautions to help stop the spread of the virus are working, and that the state plans on using those protections when schools do reopen with “key safety precautions in place.”

Under Plan B, schools are required to follow key safety measures that include:

  • Requiring face coverings for all teachers, staff and students K-12
  • Limit the total number of students, staff and visitors within a school building to the extent necessary to ensure 6 feet distance can be maintained when students/staff will be stationary
  • Conduct symptom screening, including temperature checks
  • Establish a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in the school and transportation vehicles regularly
  • Require frequent hand washing throughout the school day and provide hand sanitizer at entrances and in every classroom
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups
  • Limit nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups
  • Discontinue use of self-service food or beverage distribution
  • No more than one passenger can be seated per school bus seat (with considerations for family members to share one seat)
  • No more than two passengers can be seated in a contracted vehicle

In addition, schools are strongly recommended to follow additional safety measures that include:

  • Designate hallways and entrance/exit doors as one-way
  • Keep students and teachers in small groups that stay together as much as possible
  • Have meals delivered to the classroom or have students bring food back to the classroom if social distancing is not possible in the cafeteria
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups
  • Place physical barriers such as Plexiglas at reception desks and similar areas

For more guidance on school reopenings and safety measures being taken, click here.

For frequently asked questions about school reopenings, click here.

Some schools in North Carolina are scheduled to start in July, and officials are asking those schools to conduct remote learning until the decision is made for in-person learning.

“All the efforts that we make, we’re trying to make sure that we can get this economy humming again,” Cooper said Thursday.

K-12 schools in the state are required to report coronavirus outbreaks (two or more cases) and clusters (five or more cases).

“This is a tough call. How to open up schools is something that every single state, every single governor, is struggling with,” Cooper said, following a call with other governors.

In early June, the state released the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit that laid out essential health practices for schools to re-open safely, the governor said.

Schools were asked to prepare three plans:

  • PLAN A: The first plan is in-person learning, which calls for all students and staff to return to school. Symptom screenings and health attestations will be required for use of school transportation under this plan.
  • PLAN B: The second plan presents a scenario where all students would participate in a mix of in-classroom and remote learning. This plan involves some students potentially rotating schedules, with some students not coming onto campus at all.
  • PLAN C: The third plan is virtual learning for all students, with staff assigned to remote instruction. Under this plan, no students or staff would be in school facilities or use school transportation.

Under Plan B, all pre-K through eighth-grade students would attend in-classroom learning Monday through Friday during their assigned week, followed by two weeks of remote learning. A third of each grade would attend their assigned schools during A week, a different third would attend during B week, and the remaining third would attend during C week.

Students in grades 9-11 would have an A, B, C schedule, where they would attend in-classroom learning Monday through Thursday during their assigned week, followed by two weeks of remote learning. These students would have remote learning on the Fridays of their assigned in-classroom weeks. Twelfth-grade students would attend in-classroom learning one day each week. These students would participate in remote learning on all days they are not in the classroom.

Cooper says district and school administrators are still working on ways to implement plans, and state officials are asking them to keep using this time to work with teachers, staff, parents and public health officials to make sure that schools are opening in the safest possible way.

In June, the governor said he wanted schools to be open for in-person instruction by August, stressing the importance of the classroom for students.

“Let me be clear: We want our schools open for in-person instruction in August. The classroom is the best place for children to learn. Recent reports recommend it, and I know many parents and children agree,”Cooper said in June. “School is where children learn academics, but it’s also how they build the social skills, get reliable meals, stay physically fit and really become tomorrow’s leaders.”

The governor said his priority was opening classroom doors. He encourages public schools to continue planning, with a special focus on how teachers, staff, and students can best be protected – especially those who are high-risk.

The state’s Emergency Management and public health staff began delivering a two-month supply of medical-grade protective wear to schools across North Carolina. These supplies will go to school nurses and staff who provide health care to children.

North Carolina has also given school districts access to statewide contracts so they can more easily purchase other health and hygiene supplies like cloth face coverings and hand sanitizer for their staff and students.

Cooper continued to stress residents to wear a face covering, wash their hands, and wait six feet apart.

“Sticking to these safety rules now will help get schools back open safely. It will help stabilize our numbers, keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed and at the end of the day – it will help save lives. We have the power, and we can do this together,” Cooper said.

President Donald Trump threatened to hold back federal money if school districts across America don’t bring their students back in the fall.

State leaders also touched on the concern over hospital capacity in regards to COVID-19, particularly in Charlotte.

“We are paying close attention particularly to our hospitals in the Charlotte area,” Cooper said. “Please continue to treat this virus that the deadly threat that it is.”

One Charlotte mom, in particular, told WBTV before Governor Cooper made his announcement for this upcoming school year, she already made a decision to keep her babies at home regardless. Kimberly Flowers said she feels that it’s the safest thing to do.

“Of course, I want them to be around their friends. Of course, I want to get them out of the house. Like please go to school and as a parent, I’m like I can’t wait for summer to be over,” said Flowers.

Kimberly Flowers is all in virtual learning. She wants her kids to continue learning at home because it’s what her family is used to now. She has a 3rd and 6th grader. Under Governor Cooper’s guidelines, teachers and students will have to wear masks throughout the entire school day. Flowers feels like it’s not realistic to put that type of responsibility on her kids. So, it’s not worth the risk.

“Every winter we say, ‘Where are your hat and gloves? Where did you place them?,’ or it’s raining outside, ‘Where is your jacket I gave you this morning?’” she said.

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