Cooper announces schools will reopen with a mix of in-person, remote learning

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday afternoon that schools will be open next month for a blend of in-person and remote learning.

The hybrid approach will alternate between students going to school and working remotely at home. This is Plan B that the state asked schools to prepare.

“It’s a measured, balanced approach that will allow children to attend (school) but provide important safety protocols like fewer children in the classroom, social distancing, face coverings, cleaning and more,” he said.

School districts will be able to use whatever plan works best for them in implementing Plan B, such as alternating days or weeks.

Cooper said school districts could choose the more restrictive Plan C, where all students would work remotely, if they feel like that would be the most prudent option, but no district can enact Plan A, which would allow full-time in-person instruction.

School districts should also provide remote learning options for students who don’t feel comfortable about physically returning to school.

“We want to be done with this virus, but it’s not done with us,” Cooper said.

Face coverings will be required in schools for every teacher, staff member and student from kindergarten through high school, Cooper said, and building capacity will be limited to make sure people can maintain six feet of social distance. The state will also provide at least five reusable masks to each student and employee along with the a two-month supply of personal protective equipment that school nurses have already received.

System screenings, including temperature checks, will take place each day before children enter school buildings. Cooper said schools must create a way to isolate students who have symptoms to make sure they can get home safely.

Schools also have the latitude to create other safety requirements such as one-way hallways and entrances, keeping students in small groups and suspending activities, like assemblies, that bring large groups together.

Schools will regularly clean classrooms, bathrooms, cafeterias and buses and schedules should allow enough time for frequent hand washing.

These measures will help schools “mitigate, but not eliminate” the health risks of reopening, said NCDHHS secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, adding that it’s important for local school districts and health departments to work together to implement the necessary safety protocols.

“We know schools will look a lot different this year. They have to in order to be safe and effective,” Cooper said, adding that public health experts and school leaders developed the safety rules to protect students, teaches and their families.

Cooper also announced that Phase 2 of the state’s reopening will be extended another three weeks after July 17, when it was set to expire. This means that bars, gyms, yoga studios, etc. will not be allowed to reopen until at least mid-August.

“Easing restrictions now…could cause a spike that would threaten our ability to open schools,” Cooper said, adding that the easiest and most effective way to ensure children go to school in August is for people to continue wearing masks.

National data consistently shows that young people, especially children, are less likely to become infected or to transmit the virus than adults. Federal data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that in the United States, 2 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases were among people less than 18 years old.

State data shows that children 17 years old and younger have accounted for only 11 percent of cases and the same age groups has accounted for zero deaths.