Gov. Cooper: Public schools will be open for in-person and virtual learning

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper said North Carolina public schools will be open for both in-person and remote learning this fall.

All-remote learning will be an option for some school districts, Cooper said.

“After working with health experts, school superintendents, teachers and more, we plan to put those protections in place and open our schools in a careful way,” Cooper said.

Face masks will be required for every teacher, staff and student from kindergarten through high school.

The state will provide at least five reusable face coverings for everyone in schools.

“The studies have shown overwhelmingly that face coverings reduce disease transmission,” he said.

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

“We know there will always be some risk with in-person learning and we are 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 school,” Cooper said.

Cooper said schools will reopen under the “Plan B” option, which features both remote and face-to-face learning.

The state released its “Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit” which outlines Plan B’s requirements.

Which include:

  • 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 

“Plan A” was entirely face-to-face with minimal social distancing. “Plan C” would have been entirely remote learning.

“After looking at the current scientific evidence and weighing the risks and benefits, we have decided to move forward with today’s balanced, flexible approach which allows for in-person instruction as long as key safety requirements are in place in addition to remote learning options.” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Cooper said his plan complies with state law.

He received an advisory letter from the attorney general’s office seeking clarification on a provision in a bill he signed into law in early May saying that school districts could not schedule remote learning days prior to August 24.

“This restriction, however, is not an absolute limitation on local boards of education’s discretion to schedule remote instruction days but, rather, only a restriction on scheduling the five remote instruction days that S.L. 2020-3, Section 2.11.(b)(1) a specifically requires be built into the school calendar,” wrote Tiffany Lucas, special deputy attorney general in the letter.

The House passed a bill last week that would have clearly stated school districts can operate virtually before August 24, but the Senate did not take it up.

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger has advocated for students to be physically in classrooms when the school year begins.

“Gov. Cooper’s plan gets students halfway to where they need to be. But much like jumping over a creek, halfway doesn’t cut it,” Sen. Berger said in a statement following the governor’s announcement. “The Governor’s plan makes worse the very inequities a public school system is supposed to resolve. Students whose parents do not have the time or resources to supplement ‘virtual’ schooling will fall even further behind simply because of the condition of their birth. That’s an unspeakable travesty.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson (R) was not part of Tuesday’s press conference.

“While I am glad Governor Cooper provided more flexibility by lifting the 50% occupancy limits on schools, I would prefer we go further with a plan that is built around local control to facilitate greater flexibility for communities based on their metrics,” Johnson said in a statement.

NCDHHS also updated guidance Tuesday for schools on various scenarios if students, teachers or employees test positive for COVID-19 or are suspected to be positive.

To view that guidance, click here.

Also announced Monday was that North Carolina’s Phase Two of reopening will continue beyond its original expiration date of Friday.

Phase Two will continue for another three weeks, the governor said.

“Our virus trends are not spiking like some other states. We have hospital capacity and our percent positive is still high but it’s steady. However, our numbers are still troubling and they could jump higher in the blink of an eye,” Cooper said.

The governor’s announcement comes as the state reported a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday.

The state now has more than 87,000 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus.

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