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North Carolina schools will open to in-person and virtual instruction in the fall, Phase 2 extended

Governor Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday, July 14 that North Carolina Public Schools will open to both in-person and remote learning this fall. Opting to follow his “Plan B” model, NC schools will operate with strict safety precautions to ensure the health and safety of students, teachers, staff and families.

“It is 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, cleaning and more,” Cooper said.

The Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit outlines the updated requirements for Plan B. Districts may choose to operate under Plan C, which calls for remote learning only, and health leaders recommend schools allow families to opt in to all-remote learning. Modifications have been made to Plan B since it was released in June to make it more protective of public health.

Under Plan B, schools are required to follow the following safety measures:

  • Require face coverings for all teachers and students K-12.
  • Limit the total number of students, staff and visitors within a school building to the extent necessary to ensure 6 feet distance can be maintained when students/staff will be stationary.
  • Conduct symptom screening, including temperature checks.
  • Establish a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in the school and transportation vehicles regularly.
  • Require frequent hand washing throughout the school day and provide hand sanitizer at entrances and in every classroom.
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups.
  • Limit nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups.
  • Discontinue use of self-service food or beverage distribution.

In addition, schools are strongly recommended to follow additional safety measures that include:

  • Designate hallways and entrance/exit doors as one-way.
  • Keep students and teachers in small groups that stay together as much as possible.
  • Have meals delivered to the classroom or have students bring food back to the classroom if social distancing is not possible in the cafeteria.
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups.
  • Place physical barriers such as plexiglass at reception desks and similar areas.

“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.

“We know schools will look a lot different this year, they have to in order to be safe and effective,” Cooper noted. He shared that the state will be providing five reusable face coverings for every student, teacher and staff member and school nurses have already been supplied with two months’ worth of thermometers.

Plan B is a baseline. Cooper recognized that the start of school is still a month away: “We know a lot can happen with the virus during that time.” If the start of in-person learning creates a safety hazard, Cooper said the state will need to transition once again to strictly remote learning.

“We know there will always be some risk with in person learning, and we’re doing a lot to reduce that risk, but as pediatricians and other health experts tell us, there is much risk in not going back to in person class.”

Cooper also announced that the state will “continue to stay paused in “Safer At Home” Phase 2 for three more weeks. “Our numbers are still troubling and they could jump higher in the blink of an eye. Easing restrictions now to allow more high transmission activities could cause a spoke that would threaten our ability to open schools. The most important opening is that of our classroom doors.”

Remaining in Phase 2 means that standalone bars, gyms and other operations cannot open their doors to the public until at least August 7. “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,” Cooper said.

Staff writer Danielle Puleo contributed to this report.

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