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N.C. schools can reopen with restrictions or teach remotely, governor says. Forsyth County teachers groups calls for all-virtual lessons.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that public schools in North Carolina can reopen with a mix of in-person and remote learning when the school year starts Aug. 17.

The learning mix, known as the state’s Plan B, calls for local school systems to come up with their own plans to reopen, but those must include social distancing, increased hygiene, symptom checks and cloth face coverings, among other guidelines.

The school systems may, however, choose the state’s more restrictive Plan C, which calls for full-time remote learning. The third plan that Cooper and state officials considered, Plan A, was for full-time in-person learning with minimal social distancing.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board will decide whether to choose Plan B or Plan C at a coming meeting. An announcement for the meeting is expected in the next few days.

School system officials have been considering different scenarios for Plan B, a challenging and expensive option because of all the safety protocols. For instance, because of social distancing guidelines, classroom capacity must be reduced and fewer people will be allowed to ride on a school bus, meaning some children will have to provide their own transportation.

Cooper’s decision allows Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools to move forward with its plan, one that Superintendent Angela Hairston said will draw on the thousands of surveys that parents and teachers filled out in June.

“We recognize that there are strong feelings about back to school,” Hairston said. “Our hope is that by taking these steps to gain feedback, and carefully weighing our options, we’ll have a plan that reflects our community’s needs and concerns.”

Cooper said all children and staff members will be required to wear masks. The state will provide each student and staff member with five reusable cloth masks.

“We know schools will look a lot different this year,” he said. “They have to be safe and effective.”

Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the N.C. secretary of health, who heads the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, cited scientific and medical data that shows that young children are less likely to get and spread COVID-19.

“There are no perfect answers,” Cohen said.

School systems will have some leeway in how they respond to infections among students and staff members, Cohen said, and they should work with their local health departments.

“Schools may want to go beyond the protocols. There is no one-size fits-all,” she said.

N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, slammed the reopening plan, saying in a statement that it “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.

“And parents who do not have the privilege of working from home can’t take off every other day from work”, Berger said. “What are they supposed to do?”

On Monday, the Forsyth County Association of Educators passed a resolution endorsing Plan C, after polling its members.

“I believe that all of us understand that there’s great harm if we don’t make the right decision,” said Val Young, the association’s president. “We are looking to leaders to help us make these decisions. As an organization, we want to error on the side of caution.”

Some national leaders, including President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have urged schools to reopen with in-person learning. Robert Redfield, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in Charlotte on Monday that having children learn at home is a greater health threat, given the mental-health support, meals and socialization that schools provide.

“The public-health scale is way in favor of reopening schools,” Redfield said.

If the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board chooses to reopen with Plan B, school will be much different. One plan administrators presented to a committee of board members last week would have students from kindergarten through sixth grade attend school in person daily; seventh- through ninth-graders would split into two groups alternating in-school learning two days a week and two days of remote learning. The extra day would be used for teachers to work on remote-learning lesson plans.

Tenth- through 12th-graders would attend school virtually.

Under this plan, ninth-graders would go to school two days a week because they are at a higher risk of dropping out, Hairston told the school board last week.

Students can also enroll in the school system’s new Virtual Academy, which has about 2,500 applicants.

Plan B will come with more costs. Cooper said he is hoping for more money from the N.C. General Assembly and the federal government.

ArtPop: Arts council names six winners for billboard displays

Five adult artists and one recent high school graduate have won high honors in this year’s ArtPop Street Gallery competition.

High in the air, that is: The art work will be displayed on six billboards throughout 12 counties over the next year. The first is expected to be in place by Monday.

The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County announced the 2020-2021 winners on July 13. They are:

  • Latisha Coleman, a three-dimensional painter and freelance graphic designer, for “Bantu”;
  • Jaden Cooke, a Weaver Academy graduate who plans to attend Maryland Institute College of the Arts this fall, for “Dinner”;
  • Lance Crumley, whose styles include contemporary realism, abstract, wildlife, landscape, plain air, floral and figure paintings, for “Wondrous Apparition Provided by Magician”;
  • Kara Hammond, a multi-media artist who responds to contemporary issues with a historical perspective, for “Sow Justice Grow Peace”;
  • Jessica Singerman, a multi-media artist, for “I must love you very much”;
  • Jessica Tefft, an artist, photographer and photojournalist, for “Toy Horse.”

The billboards range in size from 10-by-30 feet to 14-by-48.

Tefft’s piece is done in photograms — darkroom processes in which objects are laid on photosensitive paper, leaving a lighter image behind on the darkened paper when they are removed.

“It’s a really special piece to me, so I’m excited about seeing it that size,” Tefft said. “Photograms are one of the first things that you are taught in the darkroom. It was one of the first techniques that my mom taught to me.

“‘Toy Horse’ is a bit about loss and keeping going, so it’s good for what we’re going through right now.”

The public gets to see the art for free, and ArtPop artists get visibility. More than 60 artists submitted entries for this year’s competition.

Latisha Coleman has been a graphic designer for many years and said that she starting getting serious about her fine art about three years ago.

“I’ve been redefining my craft,” she said.

Her piece, “Bantu,” is a three-dimensional work that was photographed for the ArtPop competition.

“My work focuses on celebrating the lives of strong African American women,” Coleman said. “Everything is 3D and crafted by hand. For me, it’s exciting to not only see but also feel the depth of the painting when you create it by hand.”

Photographer Owens Daniels, a former ArtPop winner, encourage Coleman to submit work to the program.

“He told me that it’s an opportunity open to anybody. I’m excited to see my work big and in the air,” she said. I’m planning to get a bottle of champagne and celebrate when it goes up.”

ArtPop fosters collaborations between arts organizations and the private sector to promote the work of local artists on available media space, such as billboards.

“This collaboration with the billboard industry is one of the arts council’s most rewarding projects,” said Randy Eaddy, arts council president and chief executive. “It recognizes the talent of extraordinary visual artists in our region and places their work squarely in the public eye along our highways. In fact, it creates a ‘Street Gallery’ with countless numbers of viewers each year.”

This is the fourth collaborative partnership between ArtPop, the Triad billboard industry and the arts council. Since 2016, about 15 artists have benefited through increased exposure and sales for their artwork.

Lamar Advertising of Greensboro, one of the largest billboard companies in the world, is providing outdoor advertising space in Forsyth, Alamance, Caswell, Davie, Davidson, Guilford, Montgomery, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, and Yadkin. Adams Outdoor Advertising will be providing space on five digital billboards within Forsyth County.

Police ID alleged Hanes Mall shooter, search for 3 other suspects. Two groups exchanged fire Monday afternoon, authorities say.

A man accused of opening fire inside Hanes Mall was arrested shortly after the gunfire erupted Monday, and police say they are looking for three additional suspects.

Jameel Ryheim Zimmerman Jr., 20, of High Point, was charged with discharging a firearm within an enclosure to incite fear, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest, according to a release from the Winston-Salem Police Department on Tuesday.

Police said two groups of young males got into an argument Monday afternoon in the mall’s lower level.

Zimmerman is accused of firing multiple rounds toward one group.

Investigators say people from the other group returned fire before both groups fled in different directions.

No one was injured.

Police also said they found live ammunition and shell casings in the lower level of the mall.

Zimmerman and another man, Antonio Lamont Barnes Jr., were spotted running outside the mall toward Carolina Ale House, police reported.

Both were arrested, although police said Zimmerman was taken into custody after a brief foot chase.

The shots were fired around 4:30 on Monday afternoon in the mall’s lower level. The incident shut down the mall for the remainder of the day.

Zimmerman is being held on a $15,000 secured bond.

Barnes, 21, of Winston-Salem, was charged with resisting arrest. He does not face charges related to the shots fired in Hanes Mall, according to information released by police early Tuesday.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call the Winston-Salem Police Department at 336-773-7700 or Crime Stoppers at 336-727-2800. You can also find Crime Stoppers of Winston-Salem Forsyth County on Facebook.

Governor holds off on reopening bars, gyms and other businesses

Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that the potential Phase Three reopening of businesses including bars and gyms will be delayed for more than three weeks, to Aug. 7. The state could have entered that phase at 5 p.m. Friday.

Instead, Cooper has chosen to continue for a second time the “safer-at-home” phase that began May 22.

Cooper’s decision was overshadowed by the focus of his administration on reopening K-12 schools by the scheduled Aug. 17 date, either with a hybrid of in-person and remote learning or with the option of going to all-remote learning.

“Our reopening priority is the school building doors, and in order for that to happen we have to work to stabilize our virus trends,” Cooper said.

The Cooper administration is monitoring five public-health data points: number of hospitalizations; number of hospital beds, ICU beds and ventilators available; number of positive cases; percentage of positive cases; and number of individuals coming to hospital emergency rooms with COVID-19 symptoms.

Cooper said North Carolina’s COVID-19 trends are not spiking, the percentage of positive tests has remained stable at 10% to 11%, and there remains adequate hospital intensive-care bed capacity at 22% available, and 27% of inpatient beds available.

Cooper said the state’s most important reopening involves classrooms but cautioned that “while we want to be done with the pandemic, it is not done with us.”

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported earlier Tuesday that the state is at a record high of 1,109 individuals hospitalized with the virus, up 39 from Monday.

An additional 1,956 North Carolinians had tested positive for the coronavirus as of 11:30 a.m. Tuesday for a total of 89,484 confirmed cases. There were an additional 42 deaths, bringing the death toll to 1,552.

Statewide, COVID-19 cases and deaths were at 22,725 and 746, respectively, on May 22 — the start of the Phase Two reopening.

Under Phase Two of Cooper’s three-part plan to reopen the state, he chose to keep closed several businesses that had been projected to reopen with similar 50% capacity limits that restaurants and personal-care services must observe.

Those businesses include bars, nightclubs, public playgrounds, gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys, bingo parlors and museums.

Meanwhile, the Cooper administration reached an agreement with the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild to reopen the state’s breweries, taprooms, brewpubs, wineries and distilleries as part of Phase Two.

The key element in Cooper’s amended executive order is that these establishments produce “alcoholic beverages for commercial sale off-premises and is, therefore, permitted by the ABC Commission” under the General Statutes.

For example, facilities with commercial permits to manufacture can serve, which allows Foothills Brewing to be open at both sites.

Cooper said part of his decision was based on not letting too many businesses reopen at the same time, thus potentially increasing the spread of the virus.

“We have concerns about our businesses throughout North Carolina,” Cooper said. “We want to get everything going as quickly as we possibly can.

“But, we also know you have to slow the spread of the virus. We see what’s happening in other states. Many of their hospitals are being overwhelmed.

“We’re seeing a steady, upward rise in number of cases, hospitalizations. We don’t want to start easing restrictions with those numbers like they are right now.

House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, continued his criticism of Cooper’s economic reopening decisions by saying in a statement that “instead of taking a local approach to economic closures and prioritizing North Carolina’s vulnerable populations, this administration has inconsistently shuttered thousands of small businesses statewide and failed to implement a comprehensive plan to protect nursing homes.”

Extending Phase Two of the economic shutdown for another three weeks “is likely to lead to even more businesses deciding never to reopen their doors,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.

“Small businesses that have been closed since March already face tough obstacles. The governor has placed another roadblock in their way.”

Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary, has recommended keeping fitness facilities closed until Phase Three.

She has said the facilities carry higher risk for spread of the virus in part because individuals working out are breathing harder, and respiratory droplets can be discharged at greater distances.

Five legislative bills that cleared the General Assembly would have reopened venues as varied as amusement parks, fitness centers, private bars and clubs, bowling alleys, skating rinks and arcades. Cooper vetoed all five bills, with Democratic legislators in the House and Senate voting to uphold the vetoes on July 8.

A coalition of North Carolina bowling alleys gained a legal victory July 7 in its pursuit of reopening in North Carolina.

Judge James Gale of Wake Superior Court ruled in favor of N.C. Bowling Proprietors Association Inc., granting a preliminary injunction of Cooper’s executive order that has kept bowling alleys closed since mid-March. The ruling allowing reopening applies only to bowling alleys that are members of the association.

However, on Tuesday, the state Supreme Court put a hold on Gale’s order, in part to conduct a review of the order.

The decision on bowling alleys “deserves significant attention,” said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a national expert on state legislatures.

“In a way, it suggests the governor is likely to continue to exercise sole discretion about the pace and timing of any reopening,” Dinan said. “The legislature has been unable to pass any meaningful laws limiting the governor’s authority.

“The state Supreme Court is signaling by today’s action that it is unlikely to support lower-court judgments that limit the governor’s decision-making.”