Governor Cooper: “It’s time to get our children back into the classroom”

Governor Cooper: “It’s time to get our children back into the classroom”
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During a Tuesday press briefing, Governor Cooper and state education officials urged local school districts to return to in-person learning.

Why it matters: Cooper closed public schools in March to curb the spread of COVID-19, but since July he’s left the majority of in-person learning decisions up to local school districts.

  • This announcement is the first time this school year Cooper’s made a direct recommendation for all districts, regardless of local community spread.
  • The governor recommended that local school districts give high-risk students and teachers the option to continue remote learning.

This school year local school boards have had the option to send students back under Plan B: a mix of virtual and in-person learning or Plan C: all virtual learning. In October elementary schools were cleared for Plan A: in-person learning with minimal social distancing.

What they’re saying: Children rarely transmit COVID-19 to other children and rarely transmit it to adults in school settings, N.C. DHHS Sec. Dr. Mandy Cohen said, citing recent studies.

“The science is clear: It is safe to return to schools in accordance with health protocols,” N.C. Board of Education chair Eric Davis said during the briefing.

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have mostly operated under Plan C, aside from about a month of Plan B for elementary students.

Superintendent Earnest Winston said the district was ready to return to in-person learning last month, but suggested remote learning continue because of a Mecklenburg County directive, which encouraged remote learning for three weeks.

  • Last week, the superintendent doubled down on his message that schools are ready to re-open for in-person learning. As it stands now, the board will make a final decision during its February 9 meeting.
  • If approved, elementary schools, K-8 schools and some students with disabilities would return on February 15.

South Mecklenburg High School rocks with messages “stay home, stay safe, stay kind” and “spread kindness not germs.”

COVID metrics are worse now than they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

But, Cooper says, a growing understanding of how COVID-19 spreads in the classroom and the advantages of in-person learning (such as food assistance, identifying abuse, and socialization) make this the right time to return.

  • The state’s announcement follows separate studies by the CDC and Duke/UNC last month that show that coronavirus transmission is lower in schools than the rest of the community when safety precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing are in place.
  • Failing grades and high rates of absenteeism show the toll virtual learning is taking on CMS students, especially students of color. [Go deeper]

Of note: Teachers still fall under Group 3 on the state COVID-19 vaccination list. Currently the state is still working through Group 2, and it’s not clear when Group 3 will begin.

The return to the classroom is a polarizing topic for students, parents, and teachers. Some argue that the return to in-person learning isn’t safe. Others say it is safe, and the benefits of in-person instruction far outweigh the risks.

During a CMS Board of Education meeting last month, dozens of people spoke to the board about their concerns on returning or not returning to in-person learning.

  • “We are digging such a deep hole for so many of our students,” CMS board member Sean Strain told me last month.
  • “You can decide to save lives, or you can start drafting your press releases for when one of your beloved employees dies,” CMS teacher Meredith Fox said during the board’s January 12 meeting. “Which will it be?”

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