NC districts, teachers prepare for uncertainty of fall semester amid pandemic

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C.(WNCN) – With new guidance from the state, school districts across North Carolina are preparing for a new school year.

While Gov. Roy Cooper has not guaranteed schools will be in session come fall, districts have started the first stages of welcoming students back. Durham Public Schools started preparing for the possibility of in-person learning before the guidance came down.

Chip Sudderth, chief communications offier for DPS said his distric will create plans for a year school with minimal social distancing, full remote learning and a combination of both.

“If we’re lucky enough to have our schools with children that’s going to be fantastic but we are going to be making plans for every contingency,’ said Sudderth.

Transportation changes

Getting to school could take longer buses this upcoming school year. In accordance with state regulations, below are some of the requirements for school buses:

“This year is going to be different. It’s not going to be the same kind of school year as we started with last year,” Sudderth said.

Increasing sanitary practices

Once on campus, cleaning will be a frequent daily routine schools must have enough sanitizer and hand soap for everyone. There will be minimal sharing of supplies. Below are some of the requirements from the state.

In response to families who may be concerned with sending students back to school, Sudderth said, “We are not going to present a plan to our community that puts our students at unnecessary risk. Any child who is at risk, any child whose family cannot bring their family to school, we are going to reach out with robust online learning.”

Sudderth said DPS will be more prepared for challenges in the the upcoming schools year than it was were when COVID-19 took students out of the classroom. The district said there is still a lot to work through. He said the district has a group tasked with planning students’ return to campus. Part of their plans will be supplying each student with a Chromebook.

Accommodating individual needs

“We got to take COVID-19 seriously. We’ve also got to take seriously the needs of our kids academically,” Sudderth said.

That includes children with special needs. Sudderth said the district will asses the needs of special education students to ensure they have an equally educational and healthy experience.

“We just received that guidance yesterday. Now, we got to take that guidance and make it work for every one of our students,” Sudderth said.

Christina Spears is vice president of Wake North Carolina Association of Educators and a certified special education teacher. She said accommodating students of all abilities will be a challenge.

“I think about wearing a mask, students who are deaf or hard of hearing, who require clear sound, that’s going to be difficult with masks. Are we going to provide masks that have a clear covering so folks can see? For folks who are deaf or hard of hearing, are folks going to take their masks off? So those are concerns that we have to think about,” said Spears.

Monitoring Symptoms

The state is requiring districts monitor symptoms of students and staff before they enter any buildings. It could mean making sure your child arrives earlier for screening purposes.

Requirements:

  • Enforce that staff and students stay home if they have tested positive for or are showing COVID-19 symptoms , OR they have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19
  • Conduct symptom screening of any person entering the building
  • Conduct daily temperature no-touch screenings for all people entering the school facility or boarding school transportation

Keeping social distancing a priority

Schools will also be required to keep social distancing top of mind.

Sudderth said the combination of increased cleaning and social distancing efforts will be costly. He said there is funding in the CARES Act for this but they will need to continue their strong partnerships with the community to ensure the district is prepared. He said re-opening safely will require collaboration at every level.

“We are going to have some help. There may be some choices ahead we need to make to ensure our students are well served and well protected,” Sudderth said.

Spears said Wake NCAE hopes the state can add provide funding as well.

“The fear and hopelessness are there but we are fighting that fear and hopelessness by talking to each other and asking what our needs are. It’s our jobs to say what our needs are and it’s the General Assembly’s job to fund those needs and make sure we can open schools in a healthy way,” Spear said.

Click here to read all the requirements and recommendations for yourself.

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