By Kelly Morgan

On June 8, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit that K-12 public schools will use to guide their COVID-19 precautions for the upcoming school year. The guide outlines the plans for school reopening as well as recommended and required safety measures.

The Governor’s Office and NCDHHS, in consultation with the N.C. State Board of Education and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, will determine how schools can reopen safely for the 2020-21 school year based on the state’s COVID-19 metrics by July 1 

Schools are required to create three different reopening plans. The state’s metrics will determine which one is implemented.

Plan A: Minimal social distancing will be used if metrics stabilize or move in a positive direction. The Toolkit lists a series of requirements that apply to Plan A.

Plan B: Moderate social distancing will be used if metrics worsen. Plan B includes Plan A’s requirements as well as a few more exclusive to Plan B.

Plan C: Remote learning only will be used if metrics significantly worsen to the extent that in-person instruction must be suspended.

The requirements in the Toolkit do not apply to Plan C, as students and staff would not be physically on school grounds.

Though schools may not take fewer safety precautions than the required minimum, they may add as many recommended precautions as they wish. Schools are encouraged to stress the threes W’s: “Wear, Wait, Wash,” which remind students to wear masks, wait to allow for 6 feet between themselves and others and wash their hands.

The following is an abbreviated list of the school requirements.

Schools must: 

• Place markers showing 6 feet of distance throughout campus.

• Limit nonessential visitors and activities.

• Monitor student arrival and dismissal to watch for congregating.

• Discontinue self-service food and beverage distribution.

• Enforce 6 feet of distance between people at all times.

• Fill facilities and vehicles only to 50 percent capacity.

• Share information about proper mask usage Students are strongly encouraged to wear masks, but the state does not require that they do so.

• Review and update current plans to accommodate students with special healthcare needs.

• Create a process for students, families and staff to self-identify as high-risk.

•Provide supplies (such as soap and hand sanitizer).

• Teach and monitor proper and frequent hand washing.

• Properly and frequently clean surfaces and materials.

• Limit sharing of personal items and use of materials.

• Enforce that students and staff stay at home if they have tested positive for COVID-19, regardless of symptoms or have had close contact with a person with COVID-19, regardless of if they have tested negative.

• Conduct symptom and temperature screenings on everyone entering the building. For directions and details about screenings, see the Toolkit.

• Educate students, families and staff about signs and symptoms.

• Establish a plan to isolate and send home people who develop symptoms during the day.

• Plan for how to transport sick individuals to medical care.

• Allow previously-ill individuals to return to school only if they have tested negative and have been fever-free for 24 hours, or if they can answer yes to these questions:

1) Has it been 10 days since you first experienced symptoms? 

2) Has it been three days since you last had a fever?

3) Has it been three days since your symptoms improved?

• Require people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 to return to school only after 14 days, even if they have tested negative.

• Notify staff and families if a sick person was in the school (the sick person will remain confidential).

• Provide remote learning options.

• Clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment twice a day.

• Follow symptom screening protocol when people board vehicles.

• Enforce that if someone becomes sick during the day, they may not take group transportation home.

• Create a plan to take people home who cannot use group transportation.

• Enforce that if a driver becomes sick during the day, they may not drive a school vehicle in the afternoon.

• Provide hand sanitizer on vehicles.

• Provide staff, students and families with information on how to access mental health and wellness resources.

To read the Toolkit and see the full list of requirements and recommendations, visit https://files.nc.gov/covid/documents/guidance/Strong-Schools-NC-Public-Health-Toolkit.pdf.