Schools may reopen, Cooper says

School systems can make the choices of what is best for their students when it comes to reopening, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a COVID-19 briefing earlier.

Cooper also said Phase Two of the reopening will continue for another three weeks, and encouraged all North Carolinians to wear a facial covering when in public. While North Carolina hasn’t seen as high of a spike as some states, Cooper said the virus is still a very real threat.

“Failure to wear a mask could affect our ability to reopen schools this fall,” Cooper said.

Under Plan B for the schools, Cooper said, emphasis will be place on social distancing, remote instruction, and preventing sharing of items between students. Cleaning protocols will also be strengthened. Masks will also be required for all students, staff and teachers, Cooper said. To maintain proper social distancing, Cooper said, schools may need to look into meals being served in classrooms, and limiting instruction blocks to keep students together throughout the day.

The state is providing five  reusable masks per student per school, Cooper said, and more will be available in the near future.

Cooper said schools will have the option of increasing remote learning opportunities, as well as staggering school days to reduce the number of students in classes and on campus. Large gatherings such as assemblies are off the table right now, he said. No specific mention was made of sporting events.

Schools that feel the requirements for Plan B can not be met will have the option of Plan C, Cooper said — essentially maintaining the remote teaching that has gone on since March.

“I have faith in our teachers and school leaders,” Cooper said. “I know they can make the right choices for their schools. They have met some incredible challenges so far, and we have to ask them to dig a little deeper.”

Dr. Mark Whichard, superintendent of Whiteville City Schools, said the board had planned to enact Plan B, and made a few modifications after the governor’s announcement. Guidelines divide the students into two groups: those whose names end in the letters A – L, and M – Z.

The A-L group will attend school on Monday and Tuesday, then have virtual classes Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The M -Z group will attend classes on campus only on Thursday and Friday, spending the other days in virtual classrooms. 

Attendance will be taken by class period, and all students will be expected to participate as usual, the post said. 

All students will also be required to attend school following the schedule for the first ten days of the school year, Aug. 17-28. The plan is to ease students back into a routine for the school year. After Aug. 28, parents can enroll their students in full-time online learning.

“This will give us a chance to let students know what is expected of them, and to help them get familiar with the electronic devices,” Whichard explained. “We want them ready if we have to send them home with a device and if necessary, a wifi hotspot for those students who don’t have internet coverage.”

The county schools will take a slightly different tack, Dr. Deanna Meadows said.

“Our first priority for the first month of school is getting our younger students in grades K-3 back in the physical school setting,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday. “There are many reasons for this, but the importance of teacher interaction with students in this age group is a primary concern. 

“We fear without taking this step these students could fall behind at a crucial point in their development, especially in their reading skills.”

The need to meet social distancing guidelines and other rules will mean some shifting around on campuses, and new scheduled for buses, Meadows said.

“In order to bring K-3 students back on campus and also meet the social distancing guidelines set forth by the state, we have planned to use additional schools and school spaces,” she said. 

Limitations for social distancing also require a lower teacher to student ratio which limits the number of students who can attend, “even if we used all the school spaces that exist.

“ We are also very limited on the amount of students we could carry on a bus, so transporting students will require buses from our middle and high schools to be used to transport the students in the lower grades. Because of these considerations, our plan was to start the school year in grades 4-12 virtually for the first month, then return all students including K-3, to campus on a staggered schedule.”

Cooper’s plans Tuesday may actually help the county schools avoid some of the anticipated challenges.

“The Governor’s statement today provides greater flexibility with regards to the number of students allowed in school spaces, which means we may be able to have more students in school buildings than we had previously planned,” Meadows wrote. “Unfortunately, we must go back and complete additional studies with regards to available spaces and the number of buses needed to determine if we can accommodate any additional grades.”

In the county schools,  K-3 students will begin the school year on campus for the first month of school through Sept. 11th. Students will be socially distanced, expected to wear face coverings, and the schools will continue  to implement stringent safety and sanitation guidelines.

Grades 4-12 will begin the school year online, and begin returning to school on a staggered basis Sept. 14.

” With the guidance today, we may be able to get more grades on campus. We will know after completing additional studies and if it is feasible; we will add 4th grade and then 5th grade if possible,” Meadows wrote.
Parents may also choose for their students to be in 100 percent virtual classrooms. 

“We will share all safety procedures soon so that parents can make this decision,” Meadows said. “We recognize that this may not be the best option for parents. We hope that this plan will allow parents the opportunity and time to put a plan in place for their younger children when we begin the staggered schedule on Sept. 14.

“Our belief is that the best educational experience for students is in a face to face environment and want to provide as much opportunity for all students to have that experience as we move through this school year. “

This is a developing story. Check back with us for more updates at z2j.c7e.myftpupload.com.

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About Jefferson Weaver 378 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at [email protected].