Gov. Cooper to announce next steps for schools, reopening of NC next week

State - Regional

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Thursday his back-to-school plan will involve a combination of in-person and remote learning and will announce details of that plan next week.

He also plans to announce next week whether the state will move into the next phase of reopening. The current phase two order ends July 17.

“This is a tough call, how to open up schools is something that every single state, every single governor, is struggling with,” Cooper said.

School district leaders are planning for various scenarios with some students scheduled to return to school in early August.

The state has said schools must have plans for three scenarios: minimal social distancing, moderate social distancing and all remote learning. They’ll be allowed to use a more restrictive plan than what the state ultimately calls for, but not a less restrictive one.

“It’s going to be something that follows the law, and it’s going to be something that gets our kids back into school safely,” Cooper said.

Yolanda Williams, who has been a bus driver in Durham for 14 years and is a steward for the Teamsters union, said she and other bus drivers are getting more concerned about when they’ll have concrete guidelines and if they’ll enough equipment to make sure the buses are safe and clean.

“Our main concern is safety for the children as well as ourselves,” she said. “Safety as far as us driving the bus, keeping an eye on the children, everybody’s afraid.”

CBS 17 obtained a letter from state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen to Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson that says the state’s guidance for school buses has changed.

It now would allow for one passenger per seat, with kids from the same family being able to share a seat. It also calls for no more than two passengers in a contracted vehicle.

DHHS initially called for distance of at least six feet apart between passengers and that bus occupancy be reduced to no more than 50 percent.

The letter notes Eric Davis, chairman of the state Board of Education, requested changes to that guidance on June 23 after school districts raised concerns about them. He noted buses could capped at eight kids at a time, which would create logistical challenges for getting kids to and from school in a reasonable amount of time.

To accommodate the change in guidance, Cohen writes, “In order to exercise the above revisions, face coverings would be required.” She goes on to write that they would be required for all drivers and riders.

DHHS guidance requires middle and high schoolers to wear face coverings in school buildings. The guidance does not mandate that for elementary school students.

When the General Assembly convened this week, the House passed a bill that would have given school districts more flexibility to determine whether they could start the year with remote learning.

The Senate did not take up that bill. A law that went into effect earlier this year moved the start of school to Aug. 17 and said school districts could not use remote learning days for the first week.

However, Wake County school leaders are already putting a plan together that would have some students attending school in person while others learn at home in an effort to maintain social distancing.

In an email to CBS 17, Lauren Horsch, a spokesperson for Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, wrote:

“We worked with the State Board and DPI to set Aug. 17 as the start date for in-person instruction. It was a strong compromise developed at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown and we think the law speaks for itself.  We’ve repeatedly stated that the science shows that students should be back in school and we want to see that happen. The Governor’s decision to delay his announcement creates further disruption and frustration for parents, students, teachers, and school administrators that are planning for a return to school. We’re not going to act as the judge of individual school district plans. It’s not productive to Monday morning quarterback at a time when we need to focus on getting students back into the classroom and learning.”

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