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WUNC's education coverage is led by reporters Dave Dewitt and Reema Khrais. Dewitt has been with the station since 2003. Khrais is focused on Education Policy Reporting. Browse recent stories here.

State Board, NCDHHS Say All School Districts Should Offer In-Person Learning

N.C. Department of Public Instruction
Dave DeWitt
N.C. Department of Public Instruction

The North Carolina State Board of Education has joined Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's Department of Health and Human Services in calling for schools to offer in-person instruction. But it stopped short of requiring all schools to go to Plan A ― daily in-person learning without requiring social distancing.

The board heard an in-depth presentation on the current COVID-19 situation from State Health Deputy Secretary Susan Gale Perry on Thursday. It included data that showed improvement, but also plenty of concern.

"Currently, 99 of the 100 counties in North Carolina would be either in the substantial or critical zones according to the CDC School operational strategy," Perry said. "And again that’s even with our improved metrics."

Still, at the end of her remarks, Perry's advice was explicit.

"We wanted to make sure that our guidance was crystal clear on the expectation that all schools K-12 can and should be in in-person instruction at this time," Perry said.

Perry and the NCDHHS presented an update to the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit.

Board members were equally clear that they agree with this assessment, voting to approve it. And even passed a resolution to say as much

But State School Superintendent Catherine Truitt went a step further. She wants more schools to open to more students, and sooner.

"We need to be very careful that we are not suggesting that Plan B is adequate, it is not adequate," Truitt said.

Plan B requires six-feet of social distancing at all times, which means many districts have to reduce the number of students in classrooms and have hybrid learning. Truitt wants Plan A, which requires less social distancing, for middle and high school students. 

Board Chair Eric Davis agreed on that goal, but suggested a longer timeline. 

"We look forward to approving movement all into A and we stand ready to have a special meeting called meeting any time there’s that opportunity to make that important step over the finish line," Davis said.

It's unclear what impact the State Board of Education's resolution will have. All or nearly all school districts in the state either already offer in-person instruction, or have plans to re-open buildings soon.

And under any of the directives from the State Board, the Governor, or even the legislature's failed Senate Bill 37, families still have the option for all-remote learning. 

In Wake County, 48% of families have chosen that option. And in a recent survey, more than half of Durham parents said they plan to do the same.

Cole del Charco is an audio producer and writer based in Durham. He's made stories for public radio's All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Marketplace. Before joining Due South, he spent time as a freelance journalist, an education and daily news reporter for WUNC, and a podcast producer for WFAE in Charlotte.
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