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Education leaders wrestle with "one of the hardest decisions they've ever made"

“This is a really troubling time for our families, for our students,” said Dr. Betsey Cuervo Tilson. “It is really scary.”

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Members of North Carolina’s State Board of Education met with some of the top medical minds as they mull over back-to-school plans in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Leaders are calling this discussion "one of the hardest decisions they’ve ever wrangled with." 

The board held a meeting that lasted more than four hours Wednesday, including a presentation by members of the state department of health and human services, and the incoming president of the pediatric society.

“This is a really troubling time for our families, for our students,” said Dr. Betsey Cuervo Tilson. “It is really scary.”

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Tilson said that new research appears to indicate that children are not very successful at spreading the virus. She also said that emerging studies suggest that schools that did re-open in other countries did not have a profound impact on the spread of COVID-19.

However, health experts caution that there are some groups that would be putting themselves in more danger than others.

Data from the state department of health shows that 46% of the cases are in the Latinx community. Studies also find that African-Americans are more likely to die from the virus. More than half of the state is believed to have “underlying health conditions” that could lead to COVID-19 complications.

Click here to see a summary of the presentation

“We’re really weighing risk here,” said Susan Gale-Perry, Chief Deputy Secretary of NCDHHS.

The incoming president of North Carolina’s pediatric society agrees.

“We are advocating for support for members of those groups that are considered most at risk,” Kenya McNeal-Trice said. “There is not going to be a solution for which there is no risk, so how can we help to mitigate that risk?”

Some of the guidelines and requirements that have already been issued include a review of “all current plans for accommodating students to decrease their risk” of exposure.

Some of those plans include required face masks on older children and socially-distanced school environments.

Health officials also stress the importance of providing families, students and staff with a way to “self-identify” if they are in one of the higher risk groups and to provide accommodations for those people.

And while some board members remained optimistic from the report that schools in most places may be able to open with restrictions and changes, others expressed “sadness and concern” for the members of at-risk groups who may find themselves in a tough spot whether they return to school, or stay home.

“This is one of the hardest decisions that we’ve wrangled with and there’s no yellow brick road,” board member James Ford said.

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