‘I don’t like our hands being forced’ – Durham school leaders pass plan to return to classrooms

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Durham Public Schools approved a reopening plan Thursday as state lawmakers are working on legislation that would require districts to offer an in-person instruction option.

The plan passed 5-2. Under it, elementary students will return to classrooms on March 15. Middle and high school students will return in cohorts beginning April 8. Specialty high school students will be back on March 18.

Grades six through 12 will be split into three cohorts. They’ll alternate being in classrooms for two days at a time — on Mondays and Tuesdays, then Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays being “wellness Wednesdays.”

“I don’t like this. I don’t like our hands being forced. I think we had a good plan and we were moving in the right direction,” chairperson Bettina Umstead said. “I want everyone to also know that we care deeply, each and every one of us, about every single one of our educators, every single one of our students, and this is not a decision that we make lightly.”

Early in February, Gov. Roy Cooper and other state leaders urged schools to begin reopening. Since then, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill that would require face-to-face instruction to be offered at K-12 public schools in the state.

However, Cooper said Thursday he still takes issue with the bill allowing school districts to choose whether to follow the state’s minimal or moderate social distancing plans as they reopen. State health officials have only called for middle and high schoolers to return under Plan B, which calls for six feet of distance.

The governor did not say whether or not he would veto the bill.

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