This week Bill Medlin, Executive Director of Professional Educators of NC; Chip Sudderth, Chief Communications Officer of Durham Public Schools; Dr. Charlene Wong, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University; and Marcus Bass, Executive Director of Advance Carolina, talk with host Stephanie Carson about the difficult decision of the 2020-2021 school year created by COVID-19 concerns.

On July 14, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a Plan B plan for North Carolina K-12 public schools. The plan allows for schools to opt for complete remote learning at the beginning of the year and for others to opt for a hybrid schedule, leaving the decision up to districts.

To allow for physical distancing, fewer students will be allowed in buildings at one time, which means many will have to learn remotely for at least part of the week.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg are opting for complete at-home learning at the beginning of the school year because of COVID. (Butler High School in Matthews. Photo courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools)

What are school systems deciding?

Some of the state’s largest school districts have already opted out of in-person classes to start, including Durham County Schools and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Other districts are not making a full-year commitment yet. Last week, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education decided to open schools online-only for the first nine weeks of class.

Throughout the state, teachers say they feel returning to class will be dangerous for their health, or that students will simply ignore health requirements to wear masks and stay six feet apart from their peers.

There are specific concerns among groups like the Professional Educators of NC that veteran teachers will opt to retire instead of return to school, leaving some districts with a shortage.

Some school systems are experiencing pressure to rethink the decisions they initially made.

The Asheville City Schools Board of Education voted last week to return students in kindergarten through sixth grade to school under Plan B, while older students continue virtual instruction.

An email from Vance Elementary School Principal Ruletta Hughes last week said that the district’s new superintendent, Gene Freeman, “has made it clear in his communication with us that his expectation is that all of us be in our buildings next year.” 

When asked Monday by Carolina Public Press whether the district will require teachers to return to in-person instruction even if they or their loved ones at home are at risk of serious injury or death from COVID-19, district spokeswoman Ashley Thublin directed CPP to a district website that did not answer the question.

Asheville teachers are anxious throughout the district due to several unknowns as the first day of school approaches.

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Stephanie Carson is the former news and community partnerships manager at Carolina Public Press.