RALEIGH — In a much-anticipated announcement on July 14, Gov. Roy Cooper said North Carolina public schools will be open for both in-person and remote learning under the state’s Plan B, which will require safety protocols like face coverings for all K-12 students, fewer children in the classroom and social distancing measures in buildings.

The governor also announced that Phase 2 of the statewide reopening plan — which had already been extended once, to July 17 — will be extended for three additional weeks.

“We want to be done with this pandemic, but it’s not done with us,” Cooper said at a press briefing in Raleigh.

The state’s Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit outlines the updated requirements for Plan B, and can be found at tinyurl.com/schoolstoolkit. Modifications have been made to Plan B since it was released in June to make it more protective of public health. For example, the state’s Plan B previously only required middle and high school students to wear masks. The July 14 announcement now requires every teacher, staff and student from kindergarten through high school to wear a mask.

“The studies have shown overwhelmingly that face coverings reduce disease transmission,” Cooper said.

The state is providing at least five reusable face coverings for each student, teacher and staff member. In June, the state provided packs of personal protective equipment to schools that included a two-month supply of thermometers, surgical masks, face shields and gowns for school nurses and delegated staff who provide health care to students.

The state also recommended that schools implement other safety precautions such as one-way hallways and entrances; ensuring students are in small groups; eating lunch in the classroom if the cafeteria won’t allow for social distancing; and suspending large group activities like assemblies.

Schools will also be expected to conduct symptom screening (including temperature checks); establish a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students; sanitize high-touch surfaces in the school and transportation vehicles regularly; require frequent hand washing throughout the school day; provide hand sanitizer at entrances and in every classroom; limit nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups; and discontinue use of self-service food or beverage distribution.

“Schools will look a lot different this year in order to be safe and effective,” Cooper said. “Public health experts and school leaders developed these rules to protect students, teachers and families. They also have detailed procedures for what’ll happen if a student or teacher tests positive.”

Cooper added that state officials know there will “always be some risk with in-person learning,” and that officials are doing a lot to reduce that risk. However, pediatricians and other health experts have said that there is also much risk in not going back to in-person school, he said.

Theresa Flynn, a practicing pediatrician who serves on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Pediatric Society, stated during the July 14 press conference that in-person education is important for children, and it happens in the context of a community.

“This plan strikes the right balance between health and safety and the benefits of having children learn in the classroom,” Flynn said. “We must all continue with proven measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission like wearing a face covering, keeping distance between people and frequent hand and surface cleanings so we can move closer to safely re-opening public schools.”

Plan B is a baseline for the state, the governor’s office said. As a part of this plan, the state is asking school districts to provide a remote learning option for any child who chooses it. Additionally, school systems will have the option of Plan C — all remote learning — if school officials deem it best for their schools.

“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,” Cooper said. “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.”

ASHE COUNTY SCHOOLS

According to Ashe County Schools Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox, ACS has been preparing for any decision the government made, and have been working with faculty and families to figure out exactly what the school year will look like.

Cox said Plan B was a good compromise for the situation, saying it will allow students and families to be safe while also allowing for face-to-face education. She added that even though a lot of preparation has been put in already, with more to come before school starts, perfection can not be achieved.

Cox added teachers have already begun working on lesson plans and have shown excitement for the upcoming year. She said the school system has been surveying families from around the county, figuring out needs to be addressed and what more information to put out.

From Ashe County Schools on July 15 via Facebook: "Yesterday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced that NC Schools may choose to utilize Plan B to reopen schools on Aug. 17. Ashe County Schools leadership are currently finalizing what Plan B will look like in our schools (https://www.asheschools.org/Page/6185).

We know Plan B could present challenges for our families and we are exploring ways to better serve all of our students in grades Pre-K through 12.

Protocols will be in place under this plan for social distancing, facial coverings and extra cleaning of facilities. As always, our No. 1 priority will be the safety of our students and staff.

We are excited to offer a Virtual Academy option to those students who would like their student to learn from home. We will have more information available soon and will be in contact with those parents that indicated this choice on the survey.

We appreciate everyone's patience as we finalize our plan and we are excited about the opportunity to have our student back in school both in person and virtually."

Ian Taylor contributed reporting to this story.

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