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Back to school…with a twist

RALEIGH – Will classrooms and school hallways be filled with students and teachers this August or will they remain empty due to safety restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic? Gov. Roy Cooper finally announced the decision at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The answer is a mix of the two: school districts will follow “Plan B” which will allow a mix of both in-person learning and online instruction. But school districts will also have the option of implementing “Plan C,” which is all virtual learning. Cooper said it’s up to each district to decide which option works best for them.

“Plan A,” which had been suggested along with the other options a few weeks ago, is now off the table, but would have sent students back to school with in-person learning options only.

“We know school will look a lot different this year,” said Cooper.

Under Plan B, the key for in-person learning will be to follow several health and safety procedures when schools are back in session to mitigate the spread of the virus as much as possible. Those procedures include the following:

Face coverings will be required for everyone, including teachers, staff, and students from kindergarten through high school. The state will provide five masks per person.

Schools will be required to limit the total number of people in the building so that six feet of distancing is possible.

Symptom screenings, including temperature checks, will take place daily before children enter the school buildings.

Schedules must allow time for frequent hand washing, and schools will regularly clean and disinfect classrooms, bathrooms, buses, and equipment.

Nonessential visitors and activities involving outside organizations will be limited.

Cooper noted that there are still several weeks to go before the beginning of the school year, and the school reopening plan is subject to change depending on conditions across the state.

“If trends spike and in-person school cannot be done safely with these safety protocols, then we will need to move to all remote learning like we did in March,” he explained.

The governor also emphasized that the health of teachers and staff is just as important as the students.

Mandy Cohen, the Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, said they had carefully considered all the information before choosing this “balanced and flexible” approach to reopening. She stated that planning for the school year has been full of difficult decisions, and there are no perfect solutions.

According to scientific research, Cohen stated that children seem to be less likely to catch and spread the virus, which is one factor in allowing some in-person learning in the upcoming school year.

“School is critical to a child’s education, and missing school is actually harmful to children,” she continued.

Cohen said detailed guidance has been sent to each district on how to screen students, and personal protective equipment has been sent to school nurses. Janitors are also supposed to receive updated cleaning protocols.

“I worry every day about our students’ safety,” said Eric Davis, Chair of the State Board of Education at the press conference.

Davis encouraged everyone to wear a mask, wash their hands, and practice social distancing. He also said more federal funding was needed to help schools reopen safely.

During the press conference, Gov. Cooper also announced that the state would remain under “Phase 2” of the reopening plan for another three weeks. Precautions under phase two allow restaurants to operate at a limited capacity and personal care businesses to serve customers at reduced numbers. Bars, movie theaters, public playgrounds, gyms, and other similar facilities remain closed under Phase 2.

Cooper stressed that easing restrictions too early could cause a spike in cases, similar to what is happening in other states.

Sec. Cohen illustrated the situation by saying, “we continue to simmer, but we’ve avoided boiling over [so far].”