About 35% (a little over 3,100) of the students in the Wilkes County Schools returned to their classrooms Tuesday as the school district transitioned to a combination of in-person and remote learning (Plan B).

It was the first face-to-face classroom teaching in Wilkes public schools since Gov. Roy Cooper closed all public schools statewide due to COVID-19 back in mid-March.

Among three options (Plans A, B and C) Cooper later told school districts to be prepared to use in the 2020-21 academic year, the governor chose B as the base plan. This limits school facilities to 50% of capacity, with students in their schools on portions of each day, week or month and engaged in remote learning (usually at home) when not in schools.

Under the version of Plan B used in Wilkes, students in each school who didn’t opt for fulltime remote learning were divided into two groups — Group A and Group B. The two groups are alternating between remote learning and in-person learning each school day.

This began Tuesday with all Group B students in their schools and all Group A students learning remotely. On Wednesday, it will be reversed and so on. A school year calendar showing this in greater detail is on the Wilkes School District website at https://www.wilkescountyschools.org/apps/news/article/1256120.

About 25% (a little over 2,300) of the students in the Wilkes schools chose to use remote learning every school day for the first nine weeks after Cooper ordered that this option be allowed. Wilkes school officials say students engaged in remote learning each day have the same expectations as those students enrolled under Plan B.

Under Plan B, there is additional cleaning of school buildings each day after school and during transitions. Social distancing guidelines are in place and both students and staff must wear cloth face coverings. Daily temperature and health screening checks are required.

Every school is required to conduct symptom screening of any person entering a campus building, including students, teachers, staff and other visitors. The Wilkes schools are using an attestation forms concerning student health for parents to complete and sign each day children come to school. Buses are running with one student per seat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a waiver extending the operation of the Summer Meals Program through Dec. 31, which means all children ages 1-18 receive free lunch and breakfast meals. School meals are being served outside cafeterias

The N.C. High School Athletic Association announced on Aug. 11 that no prep sports practices or tryouts will start before Nov. 4. Regular season games for the 2020-21 athletic year are now scheduled to begin Nov. 16 and conclude June 11.

Under the plan, the first cross country and volleyball contests will be Nov. 16. Basketball games will start Jan. 4 and the first football contests will be on Feb. 26. The football season will be limited to seven games and many other sports will have a limit of 14 games.

The Wilkes Board of Education planned to start the school year with Plan B, but opted to use Plan C (all students in full-time remote learning) at the board’s Aug. 10 meeting. This decision, a week before the new year started, was based on Wilkes Health Director Rachel Willard’s advice.

Willard said she was influenced by COVID-19 cases spiking with about 100 the prior week. Delaying implementation to Plan B would allow two COVID-19 incubation periods so local officials would know better if conditions have improved.

On Tuesday, Willard said she is glad students were able to return to in-person learning in their schools this week.

Plan B also includes:

• designating hallways and entrance/exit doors as one-way

• keeping students and teachers in small groups that stay together as much as possible

• discontinuing activities that bring together large groups

• placing physical barriers such as plexiglass at reception desks and similar areas.

• requiring frequent hand washing throughout the school day and provide hand sanitizer at entrances and in every classroom

• limiting nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups

• discontinuing use of self-service food or beverage distribution.

Cooper’s Plan A has students attending schools as they normally would, but with social distancing, daily temperature checks and other COVID-19-related measures. The governor said this isn’t an option.

Plan C is how public schools statewide operated for the last 2 ½ months of the 2019-20 school year after Cooper ordered school buildings closed to students due to COVID-19, effective March 16

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