Asheville Middle School in Asheville, NC
Asheville Middle School is operated by Asheville City Schools, one of the districts that has opted to begin the year with remote learning. Carolina Public Press file photo

North Carolina’s 115 public school districts have flexibility to open this fall in person with COVID-19 safety precautions or stick with remote instruction, under a plan Gov. Roy Cooper announced last month.

With the first day of school rapidly approaching, all districts have announced decisions, amid sometimes heavy and contrasting pressures from groups of educators, educational experts, health experts, parents and politicians.  

Just over half the districts, 58, are opting for some form of in-person instruction for at least some grade levels, according to data the state Board of Education provided to Carolina Public Press at the end of July.

[The latest: North Carolina coronavirus updates]

This total includes two districts, Stanly County Schools and Yancey County Schools, which both announced that they will opt for limited in-person instruction after the state board released its data.

However, nearly half the districts, 57, are opting to open without any in-person instruction, though many of these are keeping their options open for later in the school year.

Bigger school districts go remote

The N.C. Board of Education’s data also showed that the majority of students and teachers in North Carolina will not be in the districts favoring the in-person option, since those generally were smaller districts.

All five of the state’s districts with 50,000 or more students — Wake County, Mecklenburg County, Guilford County, Forsyth County and Cumberland County — opted for a remote-only start to the school year.

Most midsize districts also trended toward remote-only, though a few stood out as exceptions.

The only districts with more than 20,000 students attempting some level of in-person instruction to start the year are Union County, Gaston County, Onslow County, Pitt County, Buncombe County, Harnett County and Iredell-Statesville Schools.

Details of policies all over the place

These overall statistics don’t necessarily tell the whole story, with many quirks to local policies.

For instance, the N.C. Board of Education data notes that Columbus County has opted to go with partial in-person learning for kindergarten through third grade but remote-only for fourth-grade and up.

The N.C. School Boards Association has published a spreadsheet of the districts and their choices that drills down to the complicated policies some have chosen and allows site visitors to link directly to district pages.

The School Boards Association spreadsheet attempts to summarize the details for each district, the results of which demonstrate the wide range of both plan and complexity.

Some of the plan summaries are simple, such as the Mooresville Graded School District, which has chosen “remote instruction for the first nine weeks.”

Other policy summaries involve multiple layers of complexity, as with Johnston County Public Schools:

“All students begin the school year in remote instruction. Students in grades K-5 will transition into Plan B2 (partially in-person) beginning Sept. 8. Students in grades K-5 will return to school in two separate cohorts, or groups. One group will attend in-person instruction on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the second group will attend in-person instruction on Thursdays and Fridays. All self-contained EC students in grades K-12 will also begin in-person instruction on Sept. 8. Students in grades 6-12 will remain under Plan C until further notice, this includes all students at Innovation Academy.”

Some districts, such as Person County schools have announced the basics but say they are working out the details, according to the summary: “Will have A/B days — more details to come.”

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