RALEIGH — On July 23, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidance stressing the importance of reopening schools and that unless there is “substantial, uncontrolled community transmission in an area,” all schools should reopen on some level this fall.
A “decision-making” toolkit accompanying the guidance was also released.
The CDC says school closures cause “well-known and significant harm” to children in the areas of “social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement.” In particular, low-income and minority children and those living with disabilities will be hardest hit and disproportionally impacted.
“It is critically important for our public health to open schools this fall. School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents, and they have had negative health consequences on our youth,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement, adding that the “CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable.”
In past statements about school reopening, Redfield has stated he would send his own grandchildren back to school.
The new guidance also highlights that the “best available evidence indicates if children become infected, they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms,” and that “studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low.” Additionally, transmission can remain low if proper precautions are followed.
The CDC said that as of July 17, children under 18 years old in the United States account for “under 7% of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1% of COVID-19-related deaths.”
“No studies are conclusive, but the available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students, particularly in the context of appropriate mitigation measures similar to those implemented at essential workplaces,” the CDC guidance says.
North Carolina’s State Board of Education met the day after the CDC rolled out its new guidance. During the meeting, the board appeared to only have adopted revised information from the governor and state health officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) into school reopening plans.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a member of the State Board of Education and a Republican who is running against Cooper this year, again questioned the board about the reopening plans. Forest said he asked the same questions he did in a previous meeting about what metrics they were using, and specifically, “what are the goals for opening schools back up?”
“I asked these questions because the public should know when it is safe for schools to open. DHHS officials commented that they are using White House guidelines to reopen schools, and we haven’t hit the benchmarks from those guidelines yet. However, the guidance they are using seems to be out of date,” said Forest in a statement.
To date, the State Board of Education has made a total of 36 revisions to the “Lighting Our Way Forward” school reopening document since the first update was recorded on June 24. The latest round has six changes tied to changes in NCDHHS’s “StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit,” which took place at the July 24 meeting.
The statement by Forest said counties have much different positive rates and statistics, and that “this is why a regional approach to reopening schools must take place rather than a one-size-fits-all model.”
“If DHHS and the Cooper Administration are going to update their guidelines while claiming they are using federal guidelines, then they need to actually use the federal guidelines when they are updated,” Forest’s statement said in closing.
On July 14, Cooper announced the state’s public schools could open under “Plan B,” which is a hybrid of in-person and remote instruction. The announcement came two weeks beyond Cooper’s original self-imposed deadline of July 1.
Plan B wasn’t the only option presented; however, as the governor left the door open for schools to also use “Plan C,” which is complete remote learning. As a result, around over 45 districts and at least 31 charter schools, roughly half the state’s K-12 student population, shifted to Plan C. Those shifting include many districts which had already voted to open under Plan B, such as Wake County, the state’s largest district.
“Gov. Cooper’s plan gets students halfway to where they need to be. But much like jumping over a creek, halfway doesn’t cut it,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) said in a statement responding to Cooper’s announcement.
The shifting between plans by school districts has caused many parents to consider their options while juggling their own jobs. Some in the Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg districts are opting for full remote learning for the sake of continuity and consistency, while others are taking stock of options like home schooling, micro-schooling and even hiring private tutors.
A recent poll on remote learning conducted by Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC) shows that nearly half of participants reported their biggest concern was the school being unable to provide extra-curricular and after-school activities/events (48%). Around 31% had concerns that their school has had difficulty implementing instructional programs that continue to support their child’s ability to learn. Another concern was having to work so they can’t provide additional help (30%).
The poll revealed that 94% of respondents felt more inclined to support policies expanding school choice during the COVID-19 crisis. Around 67% said that North Carolina gives them school choice opportunities, and 32% are considering using those to pursue different educational options as a result of the pandemic.
When asked which leader/representative they thought had the largest decision-making authority or impact on their child’s education, 56% said Gov. Roy Cooper.