RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper said students in kindergarten through fifth grade will be allowed to return to in-person learning in October under plan A.
The move is optional and dependent on the approval of individual school districts. They can choose to continue operating under a more restrictive option.
Cooper called this a “careful step forward.”
“She gets more out of it when she’s in school,” Jasmin Betancourt, a parent said.
Face coverings will be required but there will not be a reduction in the number of students in the classroom. Schools must adhere to social distancing measures and limit nonessential visitors to schools.
To see more details on what plan A entails, click here.
Elementary students can return to the classroom on Oct. 5.
Students in grades 6 through 12 must remain on the hybrid plan B or all-virtual plan C.
“Most North Carolinians have doubled down on our safety and prevention measures and stabilized our numbers. The science of lower viral spread among younger children also backs up this decision,” Cooper said.
When asked about the potential of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the fall and winter, Cooper said he was prepared to “pull back” if people’s health and safety are at risk.
“Risk versus benefit; and so in terms of the developmental benefits for our younger students being back in school,” Chairman Keith Sutton, Wake County School Board said. “I feel confident that we can do it. Now if we can do it as soon as October 5th that’s the question,” Sutton said.
State Superintendent Mark Johnson released a statement following Cooper’s announcement that read in part:
“It’s great news today that we are a step closer to providing the option of in-person learning to families who want their children to return to school. While the Governor, the State Board of Education, and I have our differences, I join with them today to encourage local school board members to take advantage of this change and open all schools safely. I thank the many parents and teachers across North Carolina who have been vocal advocates on this important issue.”
STATE SUPERINTENDENT MARK JOHNSON
In July, Cooper said public schools across the state could not fully return to in-person learning but could only enact a virtual/in-person learning schedule or all virtual.
The announcement came the day after several Republican leaders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, called on Cooper to reopen schools for all students five days a week.
Forest is running against Cooper in this year’s gubernatorial election.
On Wednesday, in response to questions from CBS 17, Forest said students and teachers should not be required to wear masks in schools.
“I don’t think so. No. I don’t think there’s any science that backs that up,” he said.
The head of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield urged Americans to wear masks that same day, citing numerous studies showing that masks are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.
When asked what his plan would be safely open schools, he told CBS17, “You really don’t need a plan. You can follow people that are doing this all over the world. They’ve done it safely, and these schools can find ways to open safely and get kids back in the classroom.”
“My son has medical issues so at all costs I would not send him back to school,” Amneste Bynum, a parent said.
On Thursday, Cooper criticized Forest’s comments.
“It’s irresponsible to say we’re going to fill up our classrooms now with no safety measures and no masks. The science is clear on masks,” Cooper said. “When elected leaders and people in important policy positions discourage the use of masks, then that becomes part of the problem because what you do is increase community spread when fewer people wear masks, particularly at larger gatherings.”
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger called Cooper’s decision “a step in the right direction” but reiterated his call for all students to be able to attend school in person full-time.
In a statement, he said, “His new plan ignores the needs of low-income and exceptional students in middle and high schools for in-person instruction. We continue to hear that these decisions are being made based on ‘science.’ What is the science that says it’s safe for 5th graders to be in school full time, but it’s not safe for 6th graders?”
Cooper made his announcement Thursday comes as the number of new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the state remains stable as well as a decrease in completed tests.
“We want to make sure we’re not exposing our educators and our students unnecessarily to this virus,” Walker Kelly said.
As of Thursday, North Carolina has 189,576 total lab-confirmed cases of the disease from 2.7 million completed tests.
A total of 894 people across the state are currently hospitalized in relation to the virus on Thursday.
The latest data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows a 5.6 percent positive rate. The lowest recent positive rate was 4.7 percent on Sept. 12.