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Gov. Cooper urges districts across the state to reopen for in-person instruction

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper joined North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Mandy Cohen, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, and State Board of Education Chair Eric Davis to thank educators for their extraordinary work during an unprecedented time, to highlight ongoing research that shows that with proper mitigation measures, in-person learning is safe, and to emphasize the critical importance of ensuring all students have an opportunity to learn in a classroom. 

“Protecting the health and safety of the people of this state, especially our children and our teachers, has been our goal,” said Governor Cooper. “We know school is important for reasons beyond academic instruction. School is where students learn social skills, get reliable meals, and find their voices. Research done right here in North Carolina tells us that in-person learning is working and that students can be in classrooms safely with the right safety protocols in place.”

March 14 would mark one year since North Carolina schools have transitioned to virtual learning due to the COVID19 pandemic. While many schools in Western North Carolina are currently holding classes in-person, many districts across the state are currently still conducting classes fully remote. Since August, at least 90 of the state’s 115 school districts have provided in-person instruction for some or all of their students. 

To date, 48 percent of the state’s public school student population — 750,000 students — have attended school in-person across the state. DHHS has seen few COVID19 clusters in public schools, with data showing student-to-student transmission is unlikely, as is student to teacher transmission. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, state leaders have emphasized the importance of returning students to in-person learning as quickly and safely as possible. Children who rely solely on remote instruction are feeling the negative effects of isolation, including learning loss, mental health challenges, and food insecurity. The state’s public health toolkit details specific health and safety protocols K-12 schools must implement to keep students and teachers safe during in-person instruction. 

“Even with the thousands of students and teachers attending school in-person across the state, we have seen few COVID-19 clusters in our public schools,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. “Our Department will continue to serve our school communities, offering resources and support so we can keep our school doors open.” 

In addition to the press release, Gov. Cooper sent a letter to education leaders across the state detailing the state’s request. 

“We write today to strongly recommend that all public schools provide in-person instruction using the safety protocols outlined in the NC Strong Schools Toolkit,” reads the letter. “Research has shown that these protocols are working. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cited North Carolina as an example that schools can reopen safely when they follow specific COVID-19 mitigation strategies even during periods of high community transmission.”

Based on the updated NC School Tool Kit, Governor Cooper and state leaders are recommending that 6th – 12th Grade Students should return to in-person instruction five days per week to the fullest extent possible while following all protocols in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit, including the Six Feet Social Distancing Requirements. The requirements for Six Feet Social Distancing provide an additional layer of protection in middle and high school settings, recognizing that studies indicate that younger children appear to be less likely to spread COVID-19 to others than older teens and adults.

Updated social distancing guidelines for 6th-12th graders:

Six Feet Social Distancing Requirements (Plan B only): Schools are required to adhere to all requirements already outlined, AND:

  • Ensure that 6 feet distance can be maintained when people will be stationary (e.g., when seated in classrooms, waiting in lines, in restrooms and locker rooms, in cafeterias, other indoor school settings where people congregate. For some schools, this may mean limiting the total number of students, teachers, staff, and visitors within a school building at any one time to ensure that six feet distance can be maintained.
  • Ensure at least 6 feet between teachers and staff when they congregate, such as during staff meetings, planning periods, lunch, recess, in teacher lounges, and break rooms.
  • Ensure at least 6 feet social distancing in any outdoor setting when students, teachers, staff, and visitors are stationary (e.g., waiting in line for transportation, sitting in a group.)
  • Arrange furniture or block off seats, such as desks, chairs, or other seating in classrooms, break rooms, reception areas, and cafeterias, so that students, teachers, staff, and visitors are separated from one another by at least 6 feet.
  • Provide frequent reminders for students, teachers, staff, and visitors to stay at least 6 feet apart from one another.
  • Follow the additional social distancing requirements in the Transportation section.

Read the updated StrongSchools NC Public Health Toolkit.

Governor Cooper’s recommendation comes as the Senate Education Committee was holding a hearing on Senate Bill 37 which requires school districts to provide in-person instruction. 

Senate Bill 37, “In-Person Learning Choice for Families,” requires schools to provide access to in-person learning under Plan A (minimal social distancing) for students with exceptional needs. It also requires schools to provide in-person learning options for all K-12 students under either Plan A or Plan B (moderate social distancing).

Governor Cooper said that he agrees with state lawmakers that students need to return to the classroom, but wants to ensure that local districts retain control over what is best for their respective district. 

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