School districts in North Carolina can now choose to bring back all their elementary students for in-person learning with minimal social distancing, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday.
Plan A, as it is known, is the least restrictive of the three school reopening plans. It requires mask-wearing and health screenings. It does not require schools to reduce classroom capacity. Social distancing would still be recommended for children riding buses.
Schools whose administrators feel safe reopening can move to Plan A beginning Oct. 5. The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools district is in full-time remote learning for the first nine weeks. A Board of Education reopening committee met Thursday to discuss local plans.
The meeting focused on transitioning into Plan B, which includes remote and in-person learning. It is more common among rural counties, though most urban counties are now talking about moving into the hybrid plan.
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Superintendent Angela Hairston said she can’t yet recommend full-time in-person learning for local students.
“We are just not prepared,” she said. “Given our community metrics and readiness to move forward, I want to walk through a slow transition. We feel this is the best way for students, teachers and the entire community to return.”
Cooper and Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, cited the risk versus the benefit of opening schools to children in grades K-5
"The science shows in-person learning is so important," Cohen said. "That's why we've been so focused from day one on getting kids back into the classroom."
The local district is considering whether to move from remote learning to a mix of remote and in-person learning. Many area districts, including Davie County Schools and Yadkin County Schools, are using this plan.
Superintendent Todd Martin of Yadkin County Schools said in a tweet to parents that his staff will be working on a plan over the next two weeks to bring children back to school each day.
Cohen said that science has shown younger children have lower rates of infection and are less likely to spread the disease. In districts operating under Plan B, there has been little evidence of community spread.
Cooper said that Plan A may not be the right choice for every district or every family.
"The No. 1 opening priority during this pandemic has been our schools and our continuing progress in fighting the spread of the virus is allowing us to do a little more," Cooper said.
He also said the number of COVID-19 cases among school children in districts operating under Plan B has been low.
Tamika Walker, the president of N.C. Association for Educators, expressed reservations about Plan A in a statement.
“Local school districts already have significant flexibility to open for in-person instruction, and loosening guidelines further is flirting with danger. Maintaining a minimum six-foot social distance at all times is a critical safety measure for both educators and students, and we will not recommend for any educator to enter a non-distancing classroom without a properly fitted N-95 mask to protect their health, and the health of everyone around them,” she said.