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Statewide schools decision delayed, local planning continues

A much-anticipated announcement from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on the reopening of public schools was delayed Wednesday, leaving uncertainty as to what classrooms will look like when school starts back this fall. Cooper addressed the delay during a press conference Wednesday, saying an announcement will come in the next few weeks.

“We are not issuing a statewide directive today on how schools should be open in the fall,” Cooper said. “But we will soon. We want to get our students back in the classroom, and we want to make sure we get this right.”

At Beaufort County Schools, Aug. 17 remains the focus date. One way or another, that’s the date instruction begins for the fall semester, and the school system is planning for a variety of possibilities, each based on plans laid out by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Plans also include possibilities for enhancing remote learning, in the case schools can’t be opened at full capacity this fall.

“Our district-level teams are putting together two different actions,” said BCS Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman. “One is looking at the curriculum and instruction side, which is our remote-learning plan. That plan has to be submitted to the state by July 20. The operations side of it is looking at our reentry plan.”

Since the middle of June, DPI has been working on three plans for the fall semester. Plan A would allow students to return to school with minimal social distancing, but includes enhanced cleaning recommendations. Plan B would allow schools to reopen at 50% capacity, with social-distancing measures in place. That plan could possibly mean an alternating schedule where some students are in the classroom and others are remote learning. Finally, Plan C would keep school buildings closed, continuing remote learning for all students.

BCS staff members have been preparing for each of these possibilities, simultaneously seeking feedback from parents and students on their experiences with remote learning this spring. Cheeseman said in the weeks to come, the two plans for remote learning and reentry would go before the Beaufort County Board of Education for feedback.

A series of forums will follow to collect feedback from both teachers and the community. A forum for teachers will take place at Washington High School on July 16, with public forums at Southside High School, Northside High School and Washington High School the week of July 20-24.

“The challenge with all of this is we don’t know what our designation will be (in terms of reopening plans),” Cheeseman said. “The board of education and the superintendent don’t have the ability to select a designation. That comes from the governor and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.”