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Re-opening schools may come with some very difficult and expensive challenges

In about two weeks we should know what the upcoming school year will look like. Will kids be learning from home, going to school every other week or full time?

GREENSBORO, N.C. — While students are at home trying to enjoy some semblance of a Summer break in this “Covid-19” world we are all living in. School district administrators and educators are trying to figure out the safest ways to get kids back in the classroom this Fall. 

“The number one priority is to get as many students and teachers as safely as possible back into our schools for the start of next school year,” said NC Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.

In a couple of weeks, Governor Cooper is expected to announce which plan schools will have to follow for the upcoming year. Plan A would be a minimal social distancing situation where all students would attend school, Plan B would be a moderate social distancing plan that would come with a mandatory 50-percent reduction in class size, and Plan C would be remote learning.

The most challenging for schools would be the Plan B scenario. 

“The biggest issue we are having right now as we are working through this is transportation,” said Johnson.

In a Plan B situation, while in theory only 50-percent of the kids would be taking a bus on any given day the guidelines put in place by Gov. Cooper and DHHS include social distancing of at least six feet. That could mean a bus that normally takes 60 kids could only take 10 or 20 at most. 

“These are huge issues, we don’t have firm answers to yet, it is a work in progress,” said Johnson.

Along with transportation the other major hurdle is simply enough class space to social distance kids and teach them in a classroom. Even if you go to a block schedule that involves one week of in-class instruction for half the kids while the other half learns remotely, switching back and forth every other week, there still may not be enough room in classrooms or space on buses to make it work.

School district officials are looking at the possibility of having all high school students learn remotely and using those campuses to teach elementary and middle school students in-person. At this point there are many scenarios but how or if it will work is unclear.

There are also questions surrounding screening and monitoring students or staff that may be infected. All of that will take time and extra resources. 

“It’s a stretch for me to understand how we would do it and do it well (safely),” said Guilford County School of Educators President Todd Warren.

Dr. Sharon Contreras, the Superintendent of Guilford County Schools, when asked about opening schools under a Plan B scenario said it “seemed impractical” at this moment. Dr. Contreras said the district has done an initial cost estimate to re-open under a Plan B and it’s $98 million.

Superintendent Johnson said there is upwards of $600 million in state and federal funding available now but that may not be enough. There is certainly a chance the state general assembly could provide more funding as could the federal government.

At this time, it is unclear what plan the governor will ask school districts to open under but in the past few days, the number of hospitalizations and cases has continued to climb.

The best scenario according to Johnson would be plan A, allowing all students to return to the classroom. While plan C would only allow remote learning the cost is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars less than a plan B scenario.

The clock is ticking on whatever decision, because school districts will have to figure out if they can make it work by August 17th.

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