Schools in Avery County, including Newland Elementary School, its students and staff, are awaiting state guidance regarding NC Governor Roy Cooper’s choice of school reopening plans. An announcement scheduled for July 1 was delayed by the governor.

RALEIGH — A planned July 1 announcement by North Carolina leaders on how statewide K-12 schools would open this coming school year was postponed, NC Governor Roy Cooper announced in a July 1 media briefing.

On June 8, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released guidelines for schools to reopen for in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year. At the time, NCDHHS said that in consultation with the State Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction, it would announce by July 1 which of the three plans it laid out should be implemented for schools to most safely reopen.

“We’re not issuing a statewide directive today on how schools should open in the fall, but we will soon. We want to get our students back in the classroom, and we want to make sure that we get this right,” Gov. Roy Cooper said on July 1.

Cooper said state officials needed a little more time, and that an announcement of school reopening plans would be made “within the next couple of weeks.”

The anticipated three reopening scenarios include: Plan A, which calls for minimal social distancing; Plan B, which calls for moderate social distancing; or Plan C, which would result in remote learning only. Since that announcement, public school officials across North Carolina have been planning for what school could look like under each of these scenarios.

Cooper encouraged public school officials to continue this planning with a special focus on how teachers, staff and students can best be protected. Cooper said the state is looking to get more input from teachers and others who are “on the ground” to ensure all of the requirements are understood.

“I think it’s important to get as much buy-in we possibly can across the board before we announce decisions,” Cooper said.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen added that emerging evidence and international research shows that schools have not played a significant role in the spreading of COVID-19.

“Children, particularly younger children, are less likely than adults to be infected with COVID-19,” Cohen said. “For children who do become infected with COVID-19, they seem to be less likely to transmit it to others. We will continue to have to evaluate the scientific research carefully on this, but the current science is encouraging.”

Cooper added that decisions will also need to be made at the local level as school districts are different. He said some school systems want the state to direct them exactly on what to follow, while others want more flexibility.

According to Cooper, state emergency management and public health staff recently began delivering a two-month supply of medical grade protective wear to schools across North Carolina. Face shields, gowns and other gear will be given to school nurses and staff who are providing health care to children while they’re at school. He added that the state has also given schools access to statewide contracts to easily purchase other health supplies.

At the most recent Avery County Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, June 24, the board discussed the reopening plan.

“That has been a big question mark amongst superintendents and boards across the state,” Superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman said at the time.

Brigman reported that he had received a 113-page document in mid-June from the Department of Public Instruction detailing each reopening plan. Plan A would open schools for all students with minimal social distancing. However, signage on floors would mark one-way traffic and social distancing, while a limited number of students would be allowed in the cafeteria at once.

Under Plan B, schools would be open at 50-percent occupancy, which would also require maximum or moderate social distancing. Meanwhile, Plan C would close schools once more, forcing students and teachers to return to the distance learning methodology that was implemented in the spring.

“We have a remote learning planning team, a committee comprised of various stakeholders. That team has gotten together to complete our remote learning plan at the direction of Ellis Ayers,” Brigman said. “There’s a lot of unknowns right now until we get the nod in terms of what our expectations are from the governor’s office and state board of education.”

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