Raleigh, North Carolina – The North Carolina State Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction on Thursday adopted new state guidance for reopening the state’s public schools, which would urge remaining school districts in remote learning to reopen classrooms for students. .
No one voted against the measure, which was part of several votes at the same time. It is about a year after schools were closed for the first time due to the spread of the new coronavirus and the subsequent pandemic in the United States.
The resolution, which is not legally binding, adopts guidance from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ new StrongSchoolsNC toolkit, released Wednesday.
Almost all public school districts in North Carolina offer at least Plan A (minimum distance) or Plan B (6 feet distance) or are planning for later this month, according to the North Carolina School Boards Association. That doesn’t include public charter schools.
Schools must still offer a distance-only learning option for students or parents who wish to continue having one.
The new guidelines do not allow sixth through twelfth grades to transition to Plan A, but do urge reverting to five-day in-person learning when possible 6 feet away, which most middle and high schools cannot. . Research showing greater spread among older children, compared to younger children, has guided public health recommendations for 6-foot social distancing.
The new guidelines are not good enough in the eyes of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt. Truitt wants all students to have the option of going back to school five days a week.
“We have to be very careful,” he said. “We are not suggesting that Plan B is adequate. It is not apropiate “.
Truitt asked officials at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, who wrote the new state guidelines that the state board adopted Thursday, to come up with a metric that people can see that shows when all schools can be on the Plan. TO.
“I think DHHS owes it to teachers, parents and students to make it clear when it will be acceptable for all children to attend school five days a week,” Truitt said.
He thanked DHHS for being transparent during the pandemic, but said the state needs additional clarity.
DHHS considers several factors in its guidance, including federal guidelines, cases per capita, state test positivity rates, hospitalizations and hospital capacity, authorities said.
Generally, according to a presentation by the department, public schools that have opened have had fewer problems with the spread of the virus than private schools. Private schools have had twice the rates of coronavirus clusters.
The DHHS guidance follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for schools and community virus transmission levels, which older children mimic more than younger children. But the state’s guidance, despite being changed only on Wednesday, could change again soon, Susan Gale Perry, DHHS undersecretary, told the board.
DHHS is looking into, if transmission trends hold, soon to recommend minimum social distancing for grades six through twelfth.
“We are closely monitoring the variances and stresses, their impacts on our case rates and percent positivity,” Perry said. “But right now, I think, the trends are moving and the metrics are moving in the right direction very quickly.”
Board Chairman Eric Davis said he hopes to be able to move all students to Plan A as soon as possible and will call a special meeting to do so, if necessary.
A study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published last week showed that school districts generally did not provide clear explanations of their decision-making processes for when and to what extent schools would be open.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools are scheduled to end Plan C requirements by April 26, as one of the last districts to end Plan C in the state. Spokesman Jeffrey Nash told WRAL News on Thursday that the board plans to review that schedule at its Thursday night meeting. The district enrolls nearly 12,000 students this year.
“Every minute of every day that this happens, COVID is creating deaths,” State Treasurer Dale Folwell told the board. “But not getting kids back to school is creating poverty and illiteracy, which, if you have my background, you know it sometimes takes generations to overcome. We can’t be on the wrong side of history on that. “
Data from this week’s survey showed that one in five public school students were deemed at risk by their schools for not progressing to the next grade level. Preliminary data presented to the board on Wednesday showed that state test scores have been lower for tests that have been administered so far, although officials are optimistic that returning to in-person learning will improve children’s learning. .
Virus tests available for schools
Public schools can now request coronavirus testing for staff and students, provided they attest that they meet certain criteria.
Those criteria include ensuring that testing personnel are trained and obtaining or partnering with an organization that has earned a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certificate.
Antigen testing will not cost schools. They can be used for weekly screening by teachers and staff and for testing people with symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been in contact with a person who tested positive for the virus.
Teachers get vaccinated
From February 24 to March 2, nearly 50,000 people who identified themselves as front-line workers in education or child care received a vaccine, according to DHHS.
The state estimates that about 240,000 people qualify as front-line employees in schools or daycare.
Public schools alone employed 174,119 people during the 2019-20 school year, according to data from the Department of Public Instruction. More than half (93,923) were teachers and another 21,344 were teacher assistants.
NC requests disclaimer for testing
The board is also asking the US Department of Education for a waiver of school identification requirements and accountability for testing.
Schools must administer standardized tests this year. A school identification and liability waiver would allow the state to waive identifying new schools in need of support based on test results. The state would have to ensure that 95 percent of all students and 95 percent of each subgroup of students were also tested.
If the exemption is approved, the State Board of Education would ask the General Assembly to address state statutes that require school accountability and identification.