Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that North Carolina K-12 schools can reopen next month under a hybrid plan, with students splitting time between classroom instruction and remote learning.
“It’s a measured, balanced approach that will allow children to attend but provide important safety protocols like fewer children in the classroom, social distancing, face coverings and more,” Cooper said during a virtual news conference.
Cooper’s direction follows Plan B of three reopening scenarios and comes less than five weeks away from the mandated Aug. 17 start date. Under these guidelines, schools would operate at 50% capacity with a rotation schedule for students that combines in-person and virtual learning. He said that Plan B is the baseline and individual school districts can reopen completely virtual if necessary.
Statewide safety measures require face coverings for all students and staff; symptom screenings and temperature checks for anyone entering schools; a minimum of six feet distance apart; and details of how schools will isolate students who test positive for Covid-19. Cooper strongly encouraged school leaders to create other safety guidelines like one-way hallways and suspending school assemblies.
“We know schools will look a lot different this year. They have to, in order to be safe and effective,” Cooper said.
Earlier this month, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leadership presented the district’s version of the plan that included:
- Pre-K through eighth-grade students split into three groups assigned by school principals. Students follow an A, B, C week schedule, rotating between a week of in-person instruction and two weeks of remote learning.
- Students in grades 9-11 — also following an A, B, C schedule — return to classrooms Monday through Thursday during their assigned week and participate in remote learning on Fridays.
- High school seniors follow a fully remote schedule, except on Fridays when they attend in-person to also focus on college and career activities.
Parents could choose a fully remote-learning option for K-8 students that would operate as a “school within a school.”
‘Numbers still troubling’
Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state department of health and human services, mentioned a steady rise in key metrics, like lab-confirmed cases and hospitalizations, that is concerning state and health officials. As of Tuesday morning, the state reported 89,484 lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 1,109 people hospitalized and 1,552 dead from Covid-related illnesses.
As a result, Cooper announced that Phase 2 of the state’s three-phase reopening plan will last another three weeks. Initially, Phase 2 was set to expire June 26, then it was pushed back to July 17.
“Easing restrictions now … can cause a spike that would threaten our ability to open schools,” he said.
Cooper added that if trends spike and physically attending school can’t be done, even with safety protocols, then North Carolina will revert to remote learning.
Students haven’t physically been in classrooms since March 13 when an executive order closed schools to prevent the spread of coronavirus. How to reopen them safely has been controversial.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield visited Charlotte to meet with county officials and front-line health workers. During a press conference on Monday, Redfield said he favored schools reopening with face-to-face instruction, citing their provision of mental health services, meals, mandatory child and sex abuse reporting and socialization.
Keeping schools closed is a greater public health threat to K-12 students now than the virus, he said.
Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, says safety of educators and students should remain top priority. NCAE is the state’s largest education advocacy organization for public school employees.
“Unfortunately, educators and parents have been presented with a false dichotomy: the public schools we love, or our safety,” she said in a statement.
Families will learn more about CMS’ decision during an emergency meeting on July 15 at 4:30 p.m. Watch it here.