Empty desks in classroom (copy)

A new study recommended 10 schools be closed as part of a proposal that also suggested $1.5 billion in renovations, additions and new schools by 2038.

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students could split their time next fall going to school on some days and learning from home the rest of the time to try to maintain social distancing.

North Carolina’s public schools are closed for in-person instruction for the rest of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with no certainty about when they’ll reopen.

But a state task force was expected to tell lawmakers this week that they’re looking at options such as limiting how many students are on campus at any given time as a way to allow schools to reopen next school year. The N.C. Schools Reopening Task Force is reviewing preliminary health guidelines in five areas:

  • Social distancing.
  • Cleaning/hygiene.
  • Monitoring health of students and staff.
  • Protecting high-risk populations.
  • Educating students and staff.

Schools have switched to remote learning since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered them to close in mid-March to try to slow the spread of COVID-19. Remote learning could remain part of the learning process for next school year, as well.

The state task force is looking at how to increase social distancing. One option is to stagger school hours or alternate days when students are in school, with children learning from home when they’re not on campus.

Maintaining social distancingOther social-distancing strategies being considered include:

  • Reconfigure desks so students are 6 feet apart.
  • Reduce class size.
  • Limit group activities.
  • Take meals back from cafeteria to classrooms.
  • Stagger recess.

The task force is looking at what increased hygiene requirements might be needed, such as frequent cleaning for high-touch areas, minimizing use of shared supplies and providing hand sanitizer at every entrance, exit and classroom. They may also make recommendations on when school staff and students should wear face masks.

Keeping sick people away

Another area being studied is how to protect against sick people being on campus. Ideas being studied include:

  • Instruct staff/students to stay home if sick.
  • Have a plan for immediate removal of sick people.
  • Daily symptom screening for everyone at school entrance.
  • Make accommodations for high-risk staff and update care plans for students with special health care needs.

North Carolina is among 48 states, four U.S. territories and the District of Columbia that have ordered or recommended that school buildings be closed for the rest of the academic year, according to Education Week. The closures are affecting about 50.8 million public school students.

Under COVID-19 relief legislation passed by state lawmakers, traditional-calendar schools will start a week earlier than normal next school year on Aug. 17. But families and staff at year-round schools that start in July are clamoring for more details about reopening.

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