RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said a decision on reopening schools could come “within the next couple of weeks” after initially saying that announcement would come Wednesday.
“We’ve learned a lot more in the last few weeks with studies that have come about. We’re working to get more buy-in from teachers and people who are on the ground to make sure they understand all the requirements in the plan,” Cooper said.
School districts are putting together plans for the upcoming school year under three different scenarios: minimal social distancing, moderate social distancing and all remote learning. The districts will be allowed to choose to use a more restrictive plan than what Cooper calls for but not a less restrictive one.
In Wake County, students on some of the year-round schedules start school again August 3.
“And, this decision about reopening schools and how we do it safely and make sure our kids are learning is one of the most important, and we want to make sure we get it right,” Cooper said.
During Wednesday’s press briefing, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen referenced a statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics in which the group says considerations for going back to school “should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
Dr. Susan Mims, president of the North Carolina Pediatric Society, told CBS 17 that the decision to bring kids back into classrooms is a “risk-benefit analysis.”
“The latest data actually shows that they may not play as a big a role in that transmission that we thought originally,” she said, adding that school districts need to be prepared to be flexible with their plans as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
She said in recent months there have been increased rates of anxiety, depression and suicidality among children.
“Really look at the balance, the overall balance of child health and what influences are affecting the overall health of a child,” she said. “All of those things need to be weighed with that balance of all the benefits of having children in structured education.”
She added, “AAP recommends flexibility in implementing re-opening to address special considerations and accommodations for students and families. In addition to in-person instruction, remote learning options are important for some students and families. We must ensure that all students have access to appropriate devices and robust broadband.”
The Wake County Public School System, the state’s largest school district, recently surveyed parents and students about reopening schools.
Among them, 35 percent said they prefer students return to classrooms. Another 35 percent said they want a blend of in-person and remote learning. Meanwhile, 22 percent want school to be fully online.
“I’m just hoping that at some point they can get these kids back in school to some degree,” said Amy Reigle, a parent of children in Wake County schools. “If it needs to be part time at home and part time at school, that would be doable. But, I understand a lot of people don’t have the option to be at home. They need to be at work.”
Kristin Davis, who has three kids in Wake County schools, said it’s been a struggle balancing her work as a veterinarian with trying to teach her kids at home.
“Trying to be a stay-at-home parent and work and teach, it’s getting to be too much,” she said. As far as the upcoming school year goes, she said, “Everyone’s spinning wheels and we don’t know anything.”
Kristin Beller, president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said some teachers put in more than 16 hours a day when schools shut down and moved to all remote learning earlier this year.
Now, they’re working additional hours over the summer trying to create lesson plans under various scenarios without knowing how the upcoming school year will unfold.
“They’re spending their entire summer trying to figure out whether they’re going to prioritize their safety, children’s learning, all of that. It’s an unfair situation to be in,” she said.
She also criticized state leaders, saying the General Assembly needs to approve additional funding to meet social distancing requirements in places like classrooms and school buses.
“Parents having to choose between the safety and health of their families or the value they find in face-to-face instruction for their children, that’s a non-starter,” she said. “The safety and health of our students and our community have to be the priority.”
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