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Schools to blend in-person, remote learning this fall

North Carolina public school students will return to the classroom under a hybrid system blending in-person and remote instruction this fall, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday.

“Today, we announce that North Carolina schools will open for both in-person and remote learning with key safety precautions to protect the health of our students, teachers, staff and families,” Cooper said. “This is the Plan B that we asked schools to prepare.”

The plan is a middle-ground approach to reopening schools Aug. 17. Two other proposals would have had all students returning to the classroom at the same time, or continuing remote learning. School systems also have the option to go to a system of full remote learning.

Under the plan announced Wednesday:

  • All students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, will be required to wear masks in the school building, with exceptions in place for students who have medical issues;
  • The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services will be purchasing five face coverings for every student and school system employee in the state;
  • Every school system throughout the state will also be required to provide an online learning opportunities for students whose parents don’t want them back in the school building;
  • School systems will be required to limit the number of people in the building to allow six feet of social distancing, and daily symptom screenings are required when students arrive at schools;
  • Schools must create a way to isolate students who have symptoms and ensure they can get home safely;
  • Schedules must allow time for frequent hand washing and schools will regularly clean classrooms, bathrooms, buses and equipment;
  • Teachers will work to limit sharing of personal items and classroom materials;
  • Nonessential visitors and activities involving outside organizations will be limited;
  • Schools are also recommended to implement other safety precautions such as: one-way hallways and entrances; keeping students in small groups; eating lunch in the classroom if the cafeteria won’t allow for social distancing; and suspending large group activities like assemblies.

Even with the announcement, Cooper left the door open for a change of plans if COVID-19 trends go in the wrong direction.

“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.”

Locally, Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman says it is now up to the school system to determine the specifics of what that plan looks like in Beaufort County.

“The governor makes the ultimate decision around which designation you’re going to be,” Cheeseman said. “Within that designation, it’s left up to the LEA (local educational agency) on how that looks. He doesn’t tell you how to make it look in the building. If he announces Plan B today, he doesn’t tell you specifically which days kids come and which days kids don’t come. In terms of master scheduling, room instruction, room design, PPE and safety metrics, he doesn’t tell you how to arrange that.”

Based on Wednesday’s announcement, and planning that has taken place during the last month, Cheeseman says BCS students will be divided by last name, alternating between in-person and online instruction during the course of a week. While approximately half of the school system’s students are physically in the school buildings, the other half will tune in via Zoom and other online platforms.

Students will either attend school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays or Thursdays and Fridays. All school buildings will be closed on Wednesdays to allow BCS staff to perform thorough cleanings of each building.

“I think our board of education values the interactions between teachers and students, face-to-face,” Cheeseman said. “We’re prepared to show the board a reentry plan and last week we showed them a remote-learning plan. We want children to come to our buildings, and be sure they and employees are safe. I think we’re definitely going to be doing a ‘Plan B’ hybrid in Beaufort County.”

The school system has scheduled a series of community forums to allow parents and community members to provide feedback on returning to school this fall. Forums will be limited to 100 people in person, with sessions being streamed online at www.beaufort.k12.nc.us. Parents and community members can submit questions and concerns ahead of time at tinyurl.com/BCSthoughts.

The forums are scheduled for the following places and times:

  • July 20, 5:30 p.m., Washington High School;
  • July 28, 5:30 p.m., Northside High School;
  • Aug. 6, 5:30 p.m., Southside High School.