Since the beginning of 2021, North Carolina educational institutions have been subject to a variety of studies, orders, and directives related to school reopening from Governor Roy Cooper; the State School Superintendent, Catherine Truitt; State Board of Education Chair, Eric Davis; NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen; and the Mecklenburg County Public Health Director, Gibbie Harris. Now, after a bit of “back-and-forth” the North Carolina General Assembly in collaboration with Governor Cooper has weighed in with Senate Bill 220 (Session Law 2021-4). In sum, the North Carolina General Assembly has required public schools, excluding charter schools, to provide in-person learning opportunities for students. Here is a summary of the requirements from Senate Bill 220:
- Senate Bill 220 is effective on the first instructional day on the adopted school calendar that occurs on or after 1 April 2021 through the end of the scheduled 2020-2021 school year.
- Senate Bill 220 only applies to public schools, with the exception of charter schools. Senate Bill 220 does not apply to charter schools, and it does not apply to private schools.
- Senate Bill 220 requires public schools to comply with the requirements of the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit (K-12) (Toolkit) that was approved on 4 March 2021 for implementation of Plan A (Minimal Social Distancing) and Plan B (Six Feet Social Distancing). By specifying compliance with the Toolkit that was approved on 4 March 2021 in the actual legislation versus specifying compliance with the “then current” version of the Toolkit, if the Toolkit is revised at any point during the effective date of Senate Bill 220, local boards of education would not have to comply with those revisions, as this legislation has precedence over guidance from state agencies.
- For all students enrolled in grades kindergarten through five (K-5th grade), local boards are required to provide in-person instruction under Plan A (Minimal Social Distancing) consistent with guidance from the 4 March 2021 Toolkit on implementation of Plan A.
- It should be noted that while the 4 March 2021 Toolkit provides that schools must “provide in-person learning to students in grades K-5 under social distancing requirements for either Plan A (Minimal Social Distancing) or Plan B (Six Feet Social Distancing),” schools must comply with Senate Bill 220 and only provide in-person instruction under Plan A for K-5th grade. Schools must comply with the Toolkit’s implementation of Plan A, but schools are not permitted to provide in-person instruction under Plan B for K-5th grade.
- For all students enrolled in grades six through twelve (6-12th grade), local boards are required to provide in-person instruction under Plan A (Minimal Social Distancing), under Plan B (Six Feet Social Distancing), or under both.
- Local boards must allow parents of students with individualized education plans (IEPs) or 504 plans the option to have their child participate in Plan A (Minimal Social Distancing). In other words, local boards do not have the discretion to impose Plan B (Six Feet Social Distancing) requirements on students with an IEP or 504 Plan.
- For students who do not have IEPs or 504 plans, local boards may offer Plan A (Minimal Social Distancing) only if the local board notifies the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and describe the local board’s plan for moving to Plan A before beginning Plan A instruction. While it is important for local boards to consult with and comply with DHHS recommendations, it is important to note that the legislation does not give DHHS the authority to reject the local board’s plan for moving to Plan A or the authority to deny the local board the ability to move to Plan A.
- Local boards operating under Plan A for grades six through twelve (6th-12th grade) are required to partner with the ABC Science Collaborative of the School of Medicine at Duke University (ABC Collaborative) to allow the ABC Collaborative to collect and analyze data.
- Local boards operating under Plan A for grades six through twelve (6th -12th grade) are required to conduct “robust” contact tracing and report on information requested by the ABC Collaborative in the format requested by the ABC Collaborative.
Senate Bill 220 Summary Chart of In-Person Instruction Authorization
|Plan A||Plan B|
|All K-5 Students||YES||NO|
|6-12th Grade Students with IEP or 504 Plan||YES||NO|
|6-12th Grade Students without IEP or 504 Plan||YES (only with 1) prior DHHS notification; 2) ABC Collaborative partnership; and 3) robust contact tracing)||NO|
|All K-12th Grade Students||Remote Instruction must be available at parents’ discretion||Remote Instruction must be available at parents’ discretion|
- “In person instruction” includes all of the following:
- Instruction offered to students in person by a teacher of record on a local school administrative unit campus;
- Meal service; and
- Transportation services to the student’s assigned campus
- Because of the definition of “in person instruction,” a teacher teaching virtually while students are physically present in the classroom would not constitute “in person instruction.” Thus, both the teacher and the students have to be in person on the school campus to constitute “in person instruction.”
- Local boards shall continue to offer remote instruction for students whose parents or guardians select the remote instruction option.
- Local boards may revise the 2020-2021 school calendar to reschedule teacher workdays prior to April 1, 2021 in preparation for implementing Plan A instruction.
- Local boards of education have the discretion to make day-to-day decisions about the need to transition the school or individual classrooms from in-person instruction to remote instruction due to COVID-19 exposures that result in insufficient school personnel or that requires students to be quarantined. Because of the qualifying phrases, schools would not be permitted to transition from in-person instruction to remote instruction even if the school had COVID-19 exposure if there are sufficient school personnel and if students are not required to be quarantined.
- Local boards of education shall report school or classroom transitions from in-person instruction to remote instruction to the NC Department of Public Instruction within 72 hours of the transition.
- Governor Cooper has the authority to close a local school administrative unit during the 2020-2021 school year on the following conditions:
- The Governor orders closure, restriction, reduction, etc. of an individual local school administrative unit via executive order, and it is necessary for that individual local school administrative unit’s health and safety;
- The Governor specifies reasons in the executive order applicable to that individual local school administrative unit for closure, restriction, reduction, etc.;
- The Governor refrains from ordering statewide school closures, restrictions, reductions, etc. via a single executive order; and
- For the 2020-2021 school year, the Governor refrains from closing, restricting, reducing, etc. schools under any statutory authority other than the statutory authority given by Senate Bill 220.
After a school year mired with varying, ever-changing directives and recommendations, local school administrative units now have a semblance of clear direction and some level of sustainability for the remaining few months of the 2020-2021 school year regarding directives governing the provision of in-person instruction.