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The Difficulty of Social Distancing in Schools

Decisions about what school will look like in the fall are coming up fast. Gov. Roy Cooper and the Secretary of the NC. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Mandy Cohen, are set to announce their back-to-school outline on July 1. Cooper and Cohen will make a decision between three differing levels of social distancing. In his recent research brief, JLF’s Dr. Terry Stoops explains the three potential plans:

  • Plan A: Minimal Social Distancing – Will be implemented assuming state COVID-19 metrics continue to stabilize and/or move in a positive direction.
  • Plan B: Moderate Social Distancing – Will be required if state COVID-19 metrics worsen, and it is determined additional restrictions are necessary. All requirements in the guidance apply, with additional requirements. Plan B scheduling options include:
    • Option A: Grade level/span (Elementary and middle school students use elementary, middle, and high school campuses, while high school students take all courses through remote learning)
    • Option B: Alternating days
    • Option C: Alternating weeks
    • Option D: Half-day rotation
    • Option E: Synchronous teaching (School determines which students and/or courses are on-site and which are remote)
    • Option F: Hybrid
  • Plan C: Remote Learning Only – Will be implemented only if state COVID-19 metrics worsen significantly enough to require suspension of in-person instruction and the implementation of remote learning for all students, based on the remote learning plans required by Session Law 2020-3.

However, enforcing social distancing measures on K-12 students will be difficult. Stoops writes:

The underlying problem is that noncompliance with social distancing guidelines is inevitable. Young children and those with developmental disorders may have difficulty adopting social distancing practices. Moreover, public displays of affection and halfwitted disobedience are the hallmarks of the American teenager. I know. I have two.

But remote learning is not without its own challenges. Stoops explains:

I believe that Cooper and Cohen will opt for Plan C, that is, full-time remote learning. Yet, selecting that option would pose a serious problem for working parents who do not have the flexibility to work from home, such as those who work in the service industry, run a small business, or work shifts. Plan C does the most harm to low- and middle-income households that have fewer child care and supervision options and often limited access to broadband and internet-accessible devices. 

Read the full brief here. Read Dr. Stoops’ comments on the recently released Leandro ‘action plan’ for N.C. public schools here.

Brenee Goforth / Marketing and Communications Associate

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