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School Reopening Plans Continue to Come Together with First Day of School a Month Away

By Nathan Ham

Schools in Watauga County and every other part of the state are finalizing their plans on how they will proceed to reopen once schools start next month.

The first day for Watauga County students will be Monday, August 17 and the current plan is to reopen schools with a “2×3 Schedule.” The 2×3 Schedule is designed to allow half of the students to attend school on Monday and Tuesday while the other half will attend on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be a remote learning day for all students.

“In total, all students have three days of remote learning at home each week,” said Garrett Price, the Director of Communications for Watauga County Schools.

Remote learning options will be available for all students where parents will have a choice of sending their students to school on a part-time basis or keeping them at home for full-time remote learning, according to Watauga County Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott. Elliott shared that information in an interview with Boone Chamber of Commerce CEO/President David Jackson on Tuesday.

“We are learning all the time how to better meet the needs of our students and better support the work of our teachers and our school-based staff,” Dr. Elliott said.

Through a Watauga County parent survey that had 2,600 responses, having more clear and structured assignments was one thing that parents hoped would be able to be taken into consideration more as students will continue taking part in remote learning. Many parents also did not feel comfortable sending their children back into school buildings at this time, so continuing to fine-tune the remote learning options will be important.

“It’s going to take the entire community to make the return to school as safe, healthy, and successful as possible,” Dr. Elliott said.

According to Dr. Elliott, the school system is planning on utilizing this method for the entire first semester, however, health and virus data could change that education plans one way or another.

What Happens Under Plan B?

Under Plan B, schools are required to follow key safety measures that include:

  • Require face coverings for all teachers and students K-12
  • Limit the total number of students, staff, and visitors within a school building to the extent necessary to ensure 6 feet distance can be maintained when students/staff will be stationary 
  • Conduct symptom screening, including temperature checks 
  • Establish a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in the school and transportation vehicles regularly
  • Require frequent hand washing throughout the school day and provide hand sanitizer at entrances and in every classroom
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups 
  • Limit nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups 
  • Discontinue use of self-service food or beverage distribution 

In addition, schools are strongly recommended to follow additional safety measures that include:

  • Designate hallways and entrance/exit doors as one-way
  • Keep students and teachers in small groups that stay together as much as possible
  • Have meals delivered to the classroom or have students bring food back to the classroom if social distancing is not possible in the cafeteria
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups 
  • Place physical barriers such as plexiglass at reception desks and similar areas