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Local school officials react to bipartisan school reopening law

SALISBURY – Changes in local school schedules are afoot after Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday signed a bill that will require local school districts to send students back into classrooms.

The new law, which passed without opposition in the N.C. House and Senate, mandates the state’s school districts offer plan A, in-person instruction, to all students. It would also require districts provide at least some in-person classes to grade 6-12 as well — either plan A or B.

“Getting students back into the classroom safely is a shared priority, and this agreement will move more students to in-person instruction while retaining the ability to respond to local emergencies,” Cooper said in a statement.

The law made a sprint to the governor’s desk in just two days after leaders from both parties announced a compromise on Wednesday. The law will go into effect in 20 days and requires districts with operations not falling under its guidelines to adapt.

The legislation has greater implications for some districts than others.

Rowan-Salisbury Schools Associate Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann said the district does not have to change its plan of operations. It currently has students attending in a blended model of in-person and online classes, plan B, but elementary students on March 29 will return to class four days per week.

The law does not specify that districts must return students a full five days per week. Rowan-Salisbury Schools currently has all students learning remotely on Wednesdays for special cleaning.

The law unties the hands of education agencies to send middle and high school students back full time.

“This is something we’re going to have to bring back to our board for a direction based on the governor’s decision,” Vann said.

RSS Board of Education Chair Kevin Jones said students do best in classrooms and that his goal is to get students back in schools when it is safe to do so.

“I think a month ago we might have had more hesitation about high school students,” Jones said, noting the continually improving COVID-19 infection numbers in Rowan County.

The distinction between elementary and older students is due to the exceptionally low spread and serious illness due to COVID-19 among young children.

Board member Dean Hunter mentioned sending middle and high school students back into classrooms at the board’s Monday meeting and noted the wording of a previous announcement by Cooper that seemed to be pushing to return all students to classes.

Hunter said it will be good for students to return to some sense of normalcy and look ahead to having in-person versions of high school traditions such prom and graduation. Fans are already allowed to attend sporting events at a reduced density.

Kannapolis City Schools Superintendent Chip Buckwell said making the change is doable for KCS, which is currently in plan B for all grade levels. The law will require a change for K-5 students.

Buckwell said school principals met for more than two hours on Thursday. The main topic of discussion was planning for the change.

At this point, Buckwell said, a significant consideration will be whether to send middle and high schoolers back full time as well. Earlier this week, his recommendation was to stay the course and watch what happens in Raleigh.

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