CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina's public schools can offer both in-person and online, virtual learning options for the upcoming school year, Governor Roy Cooper announced Tuesday.
Schools will open for in-person instruction under an updated Plan B that requires face coverings for all K-12 students, fewer children in the classroom, measures to ensure social distancing for everyone in the building, and other safety protocols.
“The most important opening is that of our classroom doors. Our schools provide more than academics; they are vital to our children’s’ health, safety and emotional development,” said Governor Cooper. “This is a difficult time for families with hard choices on every side. I am committed to working together to ensure our students and educators are as safe as possible and that children have opportunities to learn in the way that is best for them and their families.”
It will be up to local districts to determine the options they offer students. Cooper said districts can reserve the right to offer all-online classes in lieu of a mixture of classroom and virtual options. Districts are forbidden from offering all in-person education.
The statewide recommendation allows local school districts to determine how best to educate their students.
Districts are required to limit the number of people - both students and staff - inside a school building at any one time. School districts have the flexibility to arrange staggered schedules as they see best. For example, they may decide to alternate schedules on a daily, or a weekly, basis.
Schools must maintain social distancing and offer schedules with time for hand washing, Cooper said. Districts are encouraged to act practices such as one-way hallways.
Governor Cooper also announced that the state will provide at least five reusable face coverings for every student, teacher and school staff member in public schools. In June, the state provided packs of personal protective equipment to schools that included a two-month supply of thermometers, surgical masks, face shields and gowns for school nurses and delegated staff who provide health care to students.
“Educators and stakeholders across our state have worked tirelessly to reopen our school buildings safely for our students, teachers and staff. Today, we take another critical step towards that goal. We also know families need to choose the option that is best for their children, so all school districts will provide remote learning options,” said Eric Davis, Chairman of the State Board of Education.
Cooper had been expected to originally make the announcement on July 1. The delay allowed officials to review more data; numbers which has shown North Carolina reporting an upward trend in coronavirus data, including setting record numbers of cases and hospitalizations in the past week alone.
Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools had previously announced similar, proposed plans. Districts like CMS are expected to formally announce their own plans at a later date.
State officials have been reviewing three proposals:
- One that would return students to in-person, classroom instruction with social distancing
- A plan for all remote learning
- And a hybrid of both in-person and remote learning
The first day of school in North Carolina is scheduled for August 17.
In addition to the announcement about school plans, Governor Cooper shared that North Carolina will remain paused in Safer At Home Phase 2 after the current Executive Order expires on Friday, July 17.
“As we continue to see rising case numbers and hospitalizations, we will stay in Safer At Home Phase 2 for three more weeks,” said Governor Cooper. “Our re-opening priority is the school building doors, and in order for that to happen we have to work to stabilize our virus trends.”
Appearing in Charlotte Monday, Center for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert Redfield said keeping kids out of the classrooms could be worse than sending them back.
"Seven million children in this nation get their mental health assistance in school. Many students get their breakfast and lunch in school," Redfield said while standing alongside Mecklenburg County officials Tuesday. "Schools are really important for mandatory reporting of child abuse or sexual abuse. Obviously, the socialization that occurs in schools."
Advocacy groups representing teachers and staff have raised concerns about returning to the classroom.
“Educators should have a voice at the table to determine what reopening plans look like,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “Our educators have a lot of anxiety and fear around the potential of going back into school buildings.”
South Carolina State Board of Education will meet Tuesday morning to discuss their options.
Last week, school districts in Clover and Fort Mill announced their reopening plans for the upcoming year.