Education

How will schools keep students safe once they reopen?

Posted April 29, 2020 6:21 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2020 7:17 p.m. EDT

— One of the biggest questions a lot of families have as we begin to reopen our communities: What will school systems be doing this fall to keep students safe?

On Wednesday, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services talked about the vision for the future of North Carolina's schools in the daily briefing.

She said they're looking at everything: Will they have enough nurses? Will the nurses have enough resources?

How will social distancing be handled in classrooms, cafeterias, school sports and assemblies?

"One of the things we’re thinking a lot about is how you bring hundreds of students onto a campus where social interaction is a normal part of the program," said Mike Ehrhardt, the head of Cary Academy, a private middle and high school with 775 students.

He explained how much a school really has to examine when considering reopening in a way that is safe and comfortable for students.

Like every school leader, Ehrhardt and his staff have been working on a plan for what re-opening looks like in the fall.

For example, he said, they're looking at the dining hall. "Do we use plexi-glass dividers?" he questioned. "How many students can we put into a classroom or dining at a given time?"

Ehrhardt has created task forces at his school to consider all the details.

The health task force has to consider what kinds of screenings, such as temperature checks, should be done at school -- and how invasive that might be for students or families.

Teachers and school officials face a lot of questions and uncertainties: Do they allow students to wear masks? Do they require masks? What’s it going to be like when a faculty member is standing in class with a mask trying to teach?

Dr. Mandy Cohen of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said, "As we look forward to the new school year there are new things schools will be doing in order to open safely. We’re working with the Department of Public Instruction and superintendents to work through those details and what would it mean to operationalize things like hand-washing and cleaning surfaces."

WRAL News has reached out to multiple public school systems in our area, and they tell us that it is still too early to tell how this will all work. They said they are looking to state officials for guidance. One idea has been to start school early, August 17, so students will get in at least a little classroom time in case closures happen again.​

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