While many North Carolina public schools had resumed some level of in-person instruction by the Fall of 2020, by the end of 2020, a majority of those public schools reverted back to 100% virtual learning due to reported record high rates of community transmission of COVID-19. At the beginning of 2021, those public schools continued to implement the 100% virtual learning model. However, for the first time since the onset of COVID-19, Governor Cooper, along with State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, State Board of Education Chair, Eric Davis, and NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, has unequivocally, “strongly recommended” that “all public schools provide in-person instruction using the safety protocols outlined in the N.C. Strong Schools Toolkit.” Governor Cooper based his “strong recommendation” on the CDC’s research study finding that “school settings have low rates of transmission, even with high rates of community transmission when strong preventative measures are in place.” Governor Cooper’s recommendation applies to all students, and not just to K-5 students.
While the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit has been in effect since June 30, 2020, here is a summary of the updated recommendations from the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit for returning to in-person instruction.
- Students in Kindergarten – 5th grade should return to in-person instruction five days per week while complying with all of the health protocols in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit. Schools do not need to impose the 6 Feet Social Distancing Requirements for students in Kindergarten -5th grade.
- Students in 6th -12th grade should return to in-person instruction five days per week while complying with all of the health protocols in the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit. Students in 6th – 12th grade must adhere to the Six Feet Social Distancing Requirements.
- Schools are expected to provide 100% remote options to “higher risk” students and teachers as well as to parents opting for the 100% remote option.
- Schools have the discretion to determine how to implement the provisions of the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit.
- Schools should maintain their contingency Plans A, B, and C.
Unlike prior Executive Orders, Governor Cooper has left schools with the discretion to determine whether they will resume in-person learning consistent with the above recommendations. Schools should expect to see a flurry of “special” or “emergency” board meetings in the coming days or weeks to evaluate their next steps in light of Governor Cooper’s “strong recommendation” for resuming in-person instruction.