students wearing face masks

The state is moving forward with a plan that balances health and safety in an effort to get students back in the classroom.

North Carolina K-12 Public Schools to Require Key Safety Measures to Allow In-Person Instruction

students wearing face masks
The state is moving forward with a plan that balances health and safety in an effort to get students back in the classroom.

Districts may choose to conduct school entirely by remote learning.

Governor Roy Cooper, NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, and education and health leaders announced health and safety plans for K-12 public schools for the new school year. Schools will open for in-person instruction under an updated Plan B, which requires 1) face coverings for all K-12 students; 2) fewer children in the classroom; 3) measures to ensure social distancing for everyone in the building; and 4) other safety protocols.

“The most important opening is that of our classroom doors. Our schools provide more than academics; they are vital to our children’s health, safety, and emotional development,” said Cooper. “This is a difficult time for families, with hard choices on every side. I am committed to working together to ensure our students and educators are as safe as possible and that children have opportunities to learn in the way that is best for them and their families.”

The Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit outlines the updated requirements for Plan B. Districts may choose to operate under Plan C, which calls for remote learning only, and health leaders also recommend that schools allow families to opt in to all-remote learning. Modifications have been made to Plan B since it was released in June to make it more protective of public health.

“After looking at the current scientific evidence and weighing the risks and benefits, we have decided to move forward with today’s balanced, flexible approach which allows for in-person instruction as long as key safety requirements are in place in addition to remote learning options.” said Cohen. “We will continue to follow the science and data and update recommendations as needed. We ask every North Carolinian to do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and follow the three W’s: Wear a face covering when in public, Wait 6 feet apart, Wash your hands.”

Cooper also announced that the state will provide at least five reusable face coverings for every student, teacher, and school staff member in public schools. In June, the state provided packs of personal protective equipment (PPE) to schools, including a two-month supply of thermometers, surgical masks, face shields and gowns for school nurses and delegated staff who provide healthcare to students.

“Educators and stakeholders across our state have worked tirelessly to reopen our school buildings safely for our students, teachers, and staff. Today, we take another critical step towards that goal. We also know families need to choose the option that is best for their children, so all school districts will provide remote learning options,” said Eric Davis, Chairman of the State Board of Education.

Dr. Theresa Flynn, a practicing pediatrician who serves on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Pediatric Society, added that in-person education matters to children and should take place in the context of a community. “This plan strikes the right balance between health and safety and the benefits of having children learn in the classroom,” she said, reiterating the importance of the “three Ws” as well as frequent cleaning of surfaces.

Under Plan B, schools must observe the following key safety measures:

  • Require face coverings for all teachers and students K-12
  • Limit the total number of students, staff, and visitors to the extent necessary to ensure six feet of distance when students/staff will be stationary
  • Conduct symptom screening, including temperature checks
  • Establish a process, dedicated isolation space, and transportation plans to isolate people who are ill
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in the school and transportation vehicles regularly
  • Require frequent hand washing throughout the school day and provide hand sanitizer at building entrances and in every classroom
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups
  • Limit nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups
  • Discontinue use of self-service food or beverage distribution

In addition, schools are strongly recommended to follow additional safety measures that include:

  • Designate hallways and entrance/exit doors as one-way
  • Keep students and teachers in small groups that stay together as much as possible
  • Have meals delivered to the classroom or have students bring food back to the classroom if social distancing is not possible in the cafeteria
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups
  • Place physical barriers such as plexiglass at reception desks and similar areas

Responding to the governor’s announcement, Katherine Joyce, Executive Director of the NC Association of School Administrators, said that superintendents, principals, and other school leaders would continue to prioritize student and staff safety in reopening schools “under the cautious parameters outlined today by the governor. We look forward to continuing work with the governor, the General Assembly, and other state leaders to ensure our schools have the support needed to get student learning back on track in the safest manner possible in each local district.”

Brenda Stephens, president of the NC School Board Association, said, “Local school boards can now begin to officially put their school reopening plans in motion. While the current situation may not be ideal for all, I’m confident North Carolina’s educators will continue to provide students with the best education possible.”

More details can be found in the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit. Read the Screening Reference Guide for schools and the Infection Control and PPE Guidance.

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