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Gov. Cooper Reopens Schools; Extends Phase 2 Guidelines Three Weeks

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday announced that public schools can reopen for in-person instruction under specified safety measures and also extended his Safer At House Phase 2 plan an additional three weeks that keeps some businesses closed.

Schools will be allowed to reopen under an updated Plan B, Cooper said, which will allow local school districts to offer in-person instruction, remote learning or a combination of both. Face coverings will be required for all K-12 students for in-person instruction along with other safety protocols. Families will be allowed to opt in to all-remote learning.

Bladen County Schools are scheduled to begin Aug. 17 for students. Teachers are scheduled to report Aug. 10.

Cooper had offered three plans for student instruction in public schools prior to Tuesday’s announcement. Plan A would have everyone back on campus with safety protocols in place. Plan C would have had all instruction done remotely as has been done since mid-March when buildings were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The most important opening is that of our classroom doors,” Cooper said during Tuesday’s news conference at the Emergency Management Headquarters. “Our schools provide more than academics; they are vital to our children’s’ health, safety and emotional development. 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 recommend 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,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said. “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 to schools that included a two-month supply of thermometers, surgical masks, face shields and gowns for school nurses and delegated staff who provide health care to students.

“Educators and stakeholders across our state have worked tirelessly to reopen our school buildings safely for our students, teachers and staff,” said Eric Davis, who is chairman of the State Board of Education. “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.”

N.C. High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker said her organization will discuss the next step as to when sports will resume. Tucker had said earlier that she couldn’t envision sports being allowed if schools weren’t open.

“We will continue discussing the numerous options and scenarios that have been developed and recommended, identifying the most appropriate scenarios,” Tucker said in a news release. “The NCHSAA staff will work with the Board of Directors, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and other stakeholder groups to solidify the details of the best plan for the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and the communities the Association represents.”

Under Plan B, schools are required to follow key safety measures that include:

* Require face coverings for all teachers and students K-12

* Limit the total number of students, staff and visitors within a school building to the extent necessary to ensure 6 feet distance can be maintained when students/staff will be stationary

* Conduct symptom screening, including temperature checks

* Establish a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students

* 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 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

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.

Also, Cooper’s extension of Safer At Home Phase 2 executive order until Aug. 7 keeps gyms, bars and similar businesses closed and also requires people to use a face covering when in public and not able to socially distance.

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