RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- In a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina will reopen schools with both in-person and online education.
Previously, Cooper encouraged school districts to prepare three reopening plans: completely in-person education, a mix of in-person and online education, and completely online education.
The plans were as follows:
Plan A means there will need to be minimal social distancing
Plan B means that there would need to be increased social distancing with schools at no more than 50 percent and buses at no more than 33 percent capacity
Plan C means remote instruction only.
On Monday, he said that the state will move forward with Plan B. He also said school districts have the option to choose Plan C if it's best for them.
Watch part of his announcement here:
Under Plan B, schools are required to follow key safety measures that include:
- Require face coverings for all teachers and students K-12. All students, teachers and staff members will be given five reusable face coverings, one for every day of the week.
- Limit the total number of students, staff and visitors within a school building to the extent necessary to ensure 6 feet distance can be maintained when students/staff will be stationary
- Conduct symptom screening, including temperature checks
- Establish a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in the school and transportation vehicles regularly
- Require frequent hand washing throughout the school day and provide hand sanitizer at entrances and in every classroom
- Discontinue activities that bring together large groups
- Limit nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups
- Discontinue use of self-service food or beverage distribution
WATCH: Dr. Cohen explains what will happen if a students tests positive for COVID-19
"We know schools will look a lot different this year," Cooper said. "They have to, to be safe and effective."
In addition, schools are strongly recommended to follow additional safety measures that include:
- Designate hallways and entrance/exit doors as one-way
- Keep students and teachers in small groups that stay together as much as possible
- Have meals delivered to the classroom or have students bring food back to the classroom if social distancing is not possible in the cafeteria
- Discontinue activities that bring together large groups
- Place physical barriers such as plexiglass at reception desks and similar areas
"We know there will always be some risk with in-person learning and we are doing a lot to reduce that risk," Cooper said. "But as pediatricians and other health experts tell us, there is much risk in not going back to in-person school."
Julia Findley, a Cary mother of two, said she originally planned to send her children to this hybrid form of school but has decided to opt for virtual learning for the fall term.
"I was just hoping that we'd be in a better place," Findley said. ""Today, it seems to be a difficult decision for me to make, we're going to try for the remote option for the fall and hopefully be able to get kids back into the classroom by January if that works."
She said her mother, who lives on the other side of the state, wants to see her grandkids. Findley doesn't want to send her children out thinking they could bring the virus home.
"I don't want to be an increased risk to anybody else, and I don't want to increase the risk for anyone in my house, so I feel like we should hunker down a bit longer," Findley told ABC11. "It's going to be a unique challenge for teachers to try and balance all that."
Both Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen stressed that outside of learning, schools also provide mental health resources for children, and are the first line of defense if a child faces abuse, hunger, or housing insecurity.
Cohen also explained what might happen if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, saying that though every situation will be different based on the circumstances of that case, the process will look similar to current contact tracing measures: anyone who came into close contact with that student will be notified, and the school will undergo cleaning protocols.
Cohen did say, however, that a positive COVID-19 case in a school does not necessarily mean that the school will need to close immediately.
Parents react to learning that NC schools will reopen for in-person and online learning
Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, responded to the announcement, saying some students will fall further behind because of virtual learning.
"The Governor's plan makes worse the very inequities a public school system is supposed to resolve. Students whose parents do not have the time or resources to supplement 'virtual' schooling will fall even further behind simply because of the condition of their birth. That's an unspeakable travesty," he said.
Berger also noted that parents who don't work from home can't take off every other day from work.
"What are they supposed to do?" Berger said. "The Governor permits parents to choose full remote learning - he must also permit parents to choose full in-person learning as well."
Berger also expressed doubt about the practicality of requiring masks for 5-year-olds, which he said contradicted "the Cooper Administration's own guidance for child care centers."
"What happens when a kindergartner removes a mask? Does the Governor really expect teachers to have any chance of enforcing this mandate?" he asked.
House Speaker Tim Moore-, R-Cleveland, also had scathing criticism of Cooper's plan.
"Instead of taking a local approach to economic closures and prioritizing North Carolina's vulnerable populations, this administration has inconsistently shuttered thousands of small businesses statewide and failed to implement a comprehensive plan to protect nursing homes," he said. "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."
Moore added that he urges the Governor "to present a workable, comprehensive plan for our schools, our economy, and vulnerable senior citizens, that recognizes the failures of his current scattershot approach and provides real opportunities for our state to move forward."
Many districts, including Wake County Public School System and Durham Public Schools approved plans based on Plan B.
CDC guidance for Back to School
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Under Wake County's current plan, students will rotate through classrooms on a three-week schedule--one week in class, and two weeks learning remotely. No more than 23 students will be allowed on each bus run, with one student per seat. Social distancing will also be mandatory in classrooms.
WATCH: Wake County leaders respond to state guidelines, fine-tune district plans
Durham County's plan, however, takes a different approach to blended online and in-person education. Under the district's plan, high school student will continue remote learning, while students in grades K-8 will move back into the classroom, expanding into high school campuses to allow students to better social distance. Students and teachers will all be required to wear face coverings, which the district will provide.
Both districts also created online academies for high-risk students and students whose parents aren't comfortable with them attending in-person classes.
The NCHSAA issued the following response to the announcement on Tuesday:
"As was just shared by Governor Cooper, this decision on the starting of school for the 2020-2021 school year now puts us in a better position to make informed decisions concerning if, when, and how to resume athletic competition at NCHSAA member schools.
We will continue discussing the numerous options and scenarios that have been developed and recommended, identifying the most appropriate scenarios. The NCHSAA staff will work with the Board of Directors, Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and other stakeholder groups to solidify the details of the best plan for the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and the communities the Association represents.
We know everyone is interested in start dates and protocols. The NCHSAA will provide further updates when they become available after Board discussion and action."
WATCH: Should students wear face coverings?