State board of education adopts guidance for N.C. schools to open for in-person learning to ‘fullest extent possible’

Updated: Mar. 4, 2021 at 6:16 PM EST
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RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV) - The North Carolina Board of Education adopted guidance from state health leaders for schools to open for in-person learning “to the fullest extent possible” while following all public health protocols.

The vote to adopt came Thursday afternoon.

Officials say K-12 schools are expected to open for in-person instruction for K-12 students following the StongSchoolsNC health guidance released Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Recognizing the growing harms to children who are out of school and relying solely on remote instruction – including negative impacts on academics, mental health and food insecurity – the department’s updated guidance instructs schools to offer in-person learning to the fullest extent possible while following all public health protocols.

NCDHHS officials say schools should only use remote learning options for higher-risk students and for families opting for remote learning for their children.

Since last updating its guidance on Feb. 2, the state has seen continued improvement in COVID-19 metrics and trends that indicate a decline in rates of new cases in many communities.

Now parents in North Carolina are figuring out what this means for their families.

These guidelines from the state board are just guidelines, each individual school district would need to discuss and vote to implement any changes.

“My initial reaction is, it’s not polite. My initial reaction is I’m sad,” said CMS parent, Stacy Staggs.

She’s concerned moving forward on these guidelines would be too soon.

“The whole thing seems premature to me. I worry taking these steps before we really quelched the spread just means we’re going to see another spike,” said Staggs. “It’s not safe for my kids to go out until community spread is much lower lower than it is.”

The new guidance says schools should only use remote instruction for “high risk students and for families opting for remote learning. Other students should return to in-person learning to the “fullest extent possible.”

“The concern is still there,” said Eric Thompson, who has kids in elementary school who recently returned to in-person learning,” We’re still taking a gamble, but we thought it would be better to try and go from there.”

“We’re still taking a gamble, but we thought it would be better to try and go from there.”

On Feb. 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released operational strategy for K-12 schools, noting the critical importance of school reopening for achieving the benefits of in-person learning and key support services.

“Extensive research tells us we can bring students back to the classroom with the right measures in place,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “And students need in-person school not only for academics, but to learn social skills, get reliable meals, and to continue to grow and thrive.”

Consistent with the CDC’s recommendations, the department’s updated guidance reinforces that all schools K-12 should be open to in-person instruction while still maintaining all mitigation measures, including the requirement for six feet of social distancing for middle and high school students only.

Studies indicate that younger children appear to be less likely to spread COVID-19 to others than older teens and adults.

Schools continue to have flexibility in how they choose to operationally implement the public health requirements in the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit.

WBTV reached out to CMS for a comment but did not receive a response on the changing guidelines and what that could mean for the school district.

We did hear from two CMS board members.

Thelma Byers-Bailey said to “stay tuned” for any upcoming changes.

Rhonda Cheek said in a statement that “leadership has been evaluating the buses for transportation, how many kids are showing up every day, and how many kids are in the building, in order to see if we can collapse the rotations to get more kids in class, more often, within the next few weeks.”

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