EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this online article said the special called meeting would be Thursday as a result of an email from the Wilkes School System Tuesday morning saying it would be Thursday. An email sent by the school system later Tuesday said the correct day of the meeting was Wednesday, as the online article now says. When the Wilkes Journal-Patriot became aware of this correction, it was too late to change the article in the print edition so it still incorrectly says the meeting is Thursday.

The Wilkes Board of Education will discuss a possible return to full-time in-person learning in Wilkes middle and high schools in a special called meeting that starts at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Stone Center on Cherry Street, North Wilkesboro

Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd said the school board will discuss transitioning the four middle schools and four high schools to Plan A, which is full-time in-person learning in classrooms, as a result of a bill Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law on March 11. The meeting is open to the public.

The new law requires that all traditional public elementary schools in the state operate under Plan A, but it gives school districts the option of having traditional middle and high schools operate under Plan B or Plan A.

All Wilkes middle and high schools currently operate under Plan B, which is a combination of in-person and remote learning to be at no more than 50% of student capacity in each school.

Under the Wilkes County Schools’ version of Plan B, students in each school who didn’t opt for full-time remote learning were split into two groups. Both groups alternate between remote learning and in-person learning each day but never the same on the same day.

The effective date for the legislation is 21 days after Cooper signs the bill and it’s ratified, which means the Wilkes school board could approve having Wilkes middle and high schools return to full-time, in-person learning in about two weeks.

Under the new law, all students in the public schools still have the option of full-time remote learning for the remainder of this academic year. This is true even if the elementary, middle or high school a student attends uses Plan A.

All Wilkes public schools started the current academic year on Aug. 17 with all students in Plan C (100% remote learning) as required but switched to Plan B on Sept. 8.

Wilkes elementary schools transitioned from Plan B to Plan A when the second grading period began on Oct. 20, but Wilkes middle and high schools remained in Plan B as required. Cooper announced on Sept. 17 that Plan A could be used in elementary schools starting Oct. 5

Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican-led legislature had been at odds about how and when all of the state’s 1.4 million K-12 public school students should get back to full-time, in-person learning.

Cooper had previously vetoed legislation allowing middle schools and high schools to go to Plan A because he said it wasn’t safe to have the lower social distancing requirements for preteens and teens. The legislation gives him the ability to restrict districts from going to Plan A if he feels that is needed.

The bill Cooper signed into law represented a compromise with the legislature.

The statewide mask mandate is still in effect for schools operating under Plan A and Plan B. The law doesn’t require that schools follow the 6 feet of social distancing recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where there’s high community spread of COVID-19.

Private schools are not covered by the law. Many private schools have been offering daily in-person instruction since the start of the school year. Private schools are required to have students and staff wear face masks on campus.

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