Coalition seeks clarification about charters’ reopening guidelines

By March 16, 2021 COVID-19, News

Confusion is growing around reopening guidelines for public charter schools. Here’s what we know right now.

Some background

Last week marked passage of bipartisan school reopening legislation (S 220/Session Law 2021-4). The law orders local school administrative units in North Carolina to open schools for in-person learning, directing grades K-5 to open under Plan A (minimal social distancing) and grades 6-12 under Plan A or Plan B (six feet of social distancing), or both. Charter schools were not included in S 220, based on their autonomy.

At a called meeting yesterday afternoon, the State Board of Education (SBE) approved amended guidance governing school reopening. Guidance seeks to clarify what districts and charters should do. For grades K-5, charters should open under Plan A, like districts. Plan A requirements for grades K-5 are outlined in the current version of the state’s public health toolkit. However, guidance for charters with students in grades 6-12 may seem less clear. Here’s what SBE’s amended guidelines state:

Charter schools specifically were not included in Session Law 2021-4; therefore, they are required by Session Law 2020-49 to follow the provisions outlined in the most current version of the DHHS StrongSchools NC Toolkit with regard to educating students in grades 6-12.

Based on the latest version of the toolkit, charters with students in grades 6-12 must operate under Plan B. In addition to incorporating Plan A guidelines, Plan B requires that schools ensure 6 feet of social distancing when people are stationary indoors; when teachers and staff congregate; and when people are stationary outdoors. Find additional guidelines and information on page 8 of the toolkit.

What the Coalition is doing

There are two ways to clear up any ambiguity or confusion, ensuring that charters can open grades 6-12 under Plan A, like district schools. The first option is to update the toolkit. The other option is to pass legislation. Presently, the Coalition is seeking a legislative fix for this issue, which DPI has said it will support. This is just a matter of cleaning up technicalities. We hope to have a legislative fix as soon as possible. We appreciate the partnership of the Superintendent, DPI, and legislative leaders in helping to make that happen.