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Cooper: NC Elementary School Students Permitted To Return To In-Person Instruction

NC Department of Public Safety

North Carolina public school students in grades K-5 will be permitted to transition to full in-person instruction beginning Oct. 5, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will stick with a phased-in return decided upon the night before the governor's announcement.

Under that “Plan A,” option laid out earlier in the year, students and faculty must still wear face masks and practice social distancing while at school, but there are not limitations on the number of students permitted in classrooms.

Schools can choose to move to the state’s Plan A, but are not required to do so.

“Plan A may not be right at this time for many school districts and for every family,” Cooper said. “Opportunities for remote learning need to be available for those who choose them.”

In a statement, CMS said, "A key component of Gov. Cooper's announcement today is that returning more students and staff to classrooms are left to school boards to make based on what is right for individual districts."

Middle and high schools must continue limiting the number of students allowed into school buildings, or keep students at home for remote learning under the governor's Plan B or Plan C for school reopenings.

The announcement comes as new COVID-19 infections in North Carolina dipped in August and September, falling from a peak in mid-July. Currently, around 5-6% of all COVID-19 tests in North Carolina are returning a positive result. In mid-July, that figure was around 10-11%.

The governor's plan was announced less than 24 hours after theCharlotte-Mecklenburg School board voted 6 - 3 in favor of gradually returning students to in-person instruction under a weekly rotating schedule. Students would be split into three groups, with each group spending one week in the classroom and two weeks learning at home.

Students with disabilities would be the first to return on Sept. 29, with other grades returning in phases. Pre-K students would return Oct. 12, followed by K-5 students on Nov. 2, and 6-8 grade students on Nov. 23. High school students would be the last to return on Dec. 14 to take their End of Course exams.

CMS Board Chair Elyse Dashew told WFAE that board members did not expect the governor's announcement Thursday. CMS's statement also said there was not yet any immediate plan to reopen elementary schools at full capacity.

"When local conditions indicate it is appropriate to bring larger numbers of students together in the classroom, we will make that recommendation to our Board," the statement read.

Cooper's announcement also came one day after North Carolina Republicans, led by gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, called on Cooper to fully reopen schools.

Forest called Cooper’s plan a failure and said North Carolina should follow the lead of public and private schools elsewhere across the country that already have reopened.

“There is no solid science or data that says kids should not be in the classroom,” Forest said.

Forest also said that schools should not require students to wear face masks.

“I don’t think there’s any science that backs that up. That’s my personal opinion,” he told reporters. “All science is based on skepticism.”

On Wednesday, CDC Director Robert Redfield said there is “clear scientific evidence” that face masks work to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

When asked about Forest's face masks comments, Cooper was critical: "It’s irresponsible to say we’re going to fill up our classrooms now with no safety measures and with no masks," he said. "The science is clear on masks. They work to slow the spread of the virus. ... When elected leaders and people in important policy positions discourage the use of masks, that becomes part of the problem. What you do is increase community spread when fewer people wear masks, and therefore you make it harder for us to get our children safely in schools."

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Jodie Valade has been a Digital News and Engagement Editor for WFAE since 2019. Since moving to Charlotte in 2015, she has worked as a digital content producer for NASCAR.com and a freelance writer for publications ranging from Charlotte magazine to The Athletic to The Washington Post and New York Times. Before that, Jodie was an award-winning sports features and enterprise reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. She also worked at The Dallas Morning News covering the Dallas Mavericks — where she became Mark Cuban's lifelong email pen pal — and at The Kansas City Star. She has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University and a Master of Education from John Carroll University. She is originally from Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal