Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced guidelines Tuesday that will allow North Carolina K-12 schools to reopen at reduced in-classroom capacity but give parents and school districts the choice to have classes entirely online.
The guidelines from Cooper and the Department of Health and Human Services allows in-person instruction if students, teachers, and staff members wear face coverings and people remain 6 feet apart at school. The plan also lets families decide whether to opt-in for remote learning.
“We know schools will look a lot different this year," Cooper said in an afternoon news conference. "They have to be safe and effective.”
Districts were previously directed to draft three plans. Plan A called for entirely in-person classes, Plan B included a hybrid of online and in-person learning and Plan C promoted fully remote instruction. Cooper decided to go with Plan B statewide, though districts could elect to implement Plan C. In many cases, students are expected to rotate between in-person and online instruction in a given week because of the limited spaces schools have to keep students 6 feet apart.
Cooper also announced Tuesday he'll extend a current executive in order to keep the state in Phase 2 of its reopening for another three weeks, which will keep businesses including bars, movie theaters, and gyms closed through Aug. 7. Bowling alleys will return to being closed under a temporary order the state Supreme Court issued Tuesday.
State law appears to prevent remote learning during the first week of school, though Cooper insisted his plan is legal because of the broad emergency authority he has during the pandemic. Republicans worry Cooper's directive further harms businesses and will hurt students' ability to receive the in-person instruction they need.
“Today's announcement that classrooms will remain closed to students either periodically or completely exacerbates the administration's economic and public health failures while adding even more uncertainty for struggling families in North Carolina,” said Republican House Speaker Tim Moore.
School districts that decide to reopen will need to conduct temperature checks, clean and disinfect common surfaces, and provide hand sanitizer for every classroom. Schools will also be prohibited from offering self-service food options and hosting activities, such as assemblies, that bring large groups together.
Cooper announced the state will give all public schools at least five reusable face coverings for every student, teacher, and staff member.
On Tuesday, the state reported nearly 2,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and said that about 1,100 people were hospitalized with the virus.
Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson was not present at the news conference. Shortly after Cooper's announcement, he said in a statement he's glad the governor lifted the 50 percent occupancy limits on schools but “would prefer we go further with a plan that is built around local control to facilitate greater flexibility for communities based on their metrics.”
Cooper's plan will likely draw the ire of President Donald Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos, both of whom have threatened to withhold federal funds from states that don't provide in-person classes to all students.
“We don't respond to those kind of threats," Cooper said. “We're making decisions on the health and safety of our students, our teachers, and our families and the best way to get them a quality education.”