NC schools will continue dealing with COVID-19 this fall and beyond

by Lindsay Marchello

Raleigh, NC – It’s not certain whether COVID-19 will continue to spread through North Carolina this fall, but one thing is likely: The 2020-21 school year won’t be typical.  

photo by Taylor Wilcox

North Carolina public health and education officials have been working to determine what the 2020-21 school year will look like, and whether it will be safe to open to in-person instruction.  

Remote learning will probably be a part of any school reopening plan, the state superintendent has said.  

“Since the start of our switch to remote learning in March, I have held the belief that we are going to need to utilize remote learning next school year as well in some form or fashion,” Superintendent Mark Johnson said in an email to the school reopening task force, obtained by EDNC.  

The school reopening task force is composed of public health officials and education representatives. Members of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Education working group heard from education and public health officials on what must be considered for a reopening plan. Any plan must focus on social-distancing protocols, monitoring students and staff, protecting high-risk populations, and educating students and staff about risks.  

“As guidelines start to take shape, we see that we will need options to at least protect students and teachers who are in the high-risk category,” Johnson said in the email.  

Catherine Truitt, the Republican candidate for state superintendent, shared a vision of what schools in the fall could look like, as part of an online meeting of the Charlotte Uptown Women’s Club. Civitas Institute posted the video clip online.  

“In my talks with the State Board of Education, and this will really come down to what [N.C. Department of Health and Human Services] says to the governor, there will be no extra-curricular activities, there will be no sports, there will be no band, there will be no eating in the cafeteria and the schools will be at half capacity by sending the kids two days a week, kids will be on an AB (staggered) Schedule,” Truitt said.  

An alternative schedule for students might be necessary to maintain social distancing at schools. Some students could end up attending school in the morning while others go in the afternoon, or the school week could feature a combination of in-person and remote learning with students on different tracks.  

Schools aren’t built for social distancing, said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation.  

“They’re built to accommodate as many students as the physical structure will allow,” Stoops said.

An alternative school schedule could place an unreasonable burden on working parents, Stoops said.

Extracurricular activities, such as sports, could also be severely limited come fall. This too poses a problem, Stoops said.

“Some may argue that canceling athletics is a small price to pay for safety,” Stoops said. “Yet, in many cities, towns, and counties in North Carolina, athletics and community are inseparable.”  

Sports reinforce interpersonal relationships and social ties. They also provide scholarship opportunities for students, Stoops said.  

One potential answer to the reopening question would be preserving in-person instruction for the school week while adding additional space for social distancing, Stoops said.  

“School districts could establish partnerships with private schools, churches, municipalities, civic organizations, and any other entity with a suitable facility,” Stoops said.  

It’s an imperfect solution, but it’s something to consider, he said.