Students will be engaged in a combination of in-person and remote learning when the 2020-21 academic year starts next month, announced Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday.

Cooper also announced that phase two of the state’s “reopening” from COVID-19-related restrictions will continue for another three weeks rather than transition to phase three starting Saturday as he earlier said was possible.

Remaining in phase two means most mass gatherings are still limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, on-premises dining at restaurants is still limited to about 50% of capacity and movie theaters, museums, public playgrounds, indoor exercise facilities and gaming establishments must remain closed. Religious gatherings, funerals and weddings are exempt.

Among three options school districts were told to prepare for in 2020-21, Cooper chose Plan B as the base operating model for K-12 schools, but said they had the option of using Plan C.

Plan B limits schools to 50% of their capacity, with student attendance alternating on portions of each day, week or month. When not engaged in in-person classroom learning, students will be at home and in online classes.

Plan C is the option of having all students engaged in remote learning every day. This how public schools statewide operated for the last 2½ months of the school year after Cooper ordered school buildings closed to students due to COVID-19 on March 14.

Plan A, which isn’t an option for school districts, calls for all students to attend schools as they normally would but with social distancing, daily temperature checks and other measures to help prevent spread of COVID-19.

Cooper also said today that K-12 public schools will reopen under a “moderate social distancing” plan requiring daily temperature and health screening checks and that face coverings be worn by all school employees and students, including elementary students.

He said all students, teachers and staff will be given five reusable face coverings, one for every weekday.

Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd released the following statement in response to Cooper’s announcement: “Wilkes County Schools leadership and our local board of education are currently finalizing what Plan B will look like in our schools following Governor Cooper’s announcement and state requirements.

“Our current plan is to utilize an A/B schedule with 50% of our students in attendance each day of the week, Monday through Friday. Students will attend school every other day, and will have remote learning on the days they are not in school.

“Siblings will be placed on the same rotation, even if they attend different schools. We know Plan B will present challenges, but we feel this is the best way to serve all of our students in grades Pre-K through 13 in our system.”

Byrd continued, “Protocols will be in place under this plan for social distancing, facial coverings and extra cleaning of facilities. As always, our number one priority will be the safety of our students and our staff.

“We will produce calendars shortly so parents will know what days their child is to attend.”

“Again, we understand this will present challenges such as child care, but feel that this gives us the best chance to serve every student in our system. Our hope is that this plan presents less of a challenge than what our parents have dealt with since March.”

In his announcement Tuesday, Cooper also stated, “As a part of this plan, we want local school districts to provide remote learning options for any child who chooses it.”

Byrd said Wilkes school officials “will be working on what that option looks like.”

Cooper also said, “The start of school is a month away for most of our children and we know a lot can happen with the virus during that time. If trends spike and in-person school cannot be done safely with these safety protocols, then we will need to move to all remote learning like we did in March

He said schools are strongly recommended to follow additional safety measures that include:

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

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

• having meals delivered to the classroom or have students bring food back to the classroom if social distancing is not possible in the cafeteria;

• discontinuing activities that bring together large groups;

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

Plan B also calls for:

• establishing a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students;

• cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces in the school and transportation vehicles regularly;

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

• discontinuing activities that bring together large groups;

• limiting nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups;

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

Cooper stated, “We know there will always be some risk with in-person learning and we are doing a lot to reduce that risk. But as pediatricians and other health experts tell us, there is much risk in not going back to in-person school.”

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