BY JEFF JAMES

I think we can all agree that students need to return to school. After what has been an unimaginable year, it’s time to give our children the routine and normalcy that they need. In short, that return to normalcy is in the hands of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and Gov. Roy Cooper.

House Bill 37, “A BILL TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO IN-PERSON LEARNING FOR STUDENTS IN GRADES KINDERGARTEN THROUGH TWELVE,” currently sits on Coopers’ desk. The bill was filed on February 1, 2021, and was changed four times before being ratified by the N.C. House and Senate and sent to the governor on February 17, 2021.

The governor can veto the bill or he can simply let it sit for 10 days. If he simply lets it sit, the bill becomes law following the waiting period.

The way the bill currently stands, Iredell-Statesville Schools would continue with Plan A for students in K-5, and Plan B for students in grades 6-12. Since October of 2020, K-5 students have been back in the classroom five days a week.

Simply put, I-SS students in grades K-5 have successfully returned to school for the last five months. Our data clearly shows that K-5 students can safely go back to school at full capacity.

Grades 6-12 would continue on Plan B, which is a hybrid schedule that allows students to return to school approximately two days a week. The key to getting older students back to school has everything to do with social distancing. While the social distancing rules were relaxed for elementary-age students, they remain in effect for middle and high school students. Page six of the NCDHHS StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit states schools must maintain six feet for students in grades 6-12. We cannot operate middle and high school schedules normally and comply with this guidance.

Through a partnership with the Iredell County Health Department and Iredell Health System, over 1,200 Iredell-Statesville educators were vaccinated this week. Iredell-Statesville Schools has strict safety protocols in place for mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing.

Our diligence in keeping students safe has resulted in less than 1 percent of students and staff contracting COVID-19 on a school campus. The percentage of school spread when compared to community spread in Iredell County has remained consistently lower over time. The fact of the matter is that we have data that indicates that school is literally the safest place for Iredell County children to be!

Even with this, until the NCDHHS changes the social-distancing rules, we cannot bring middle and high school students back to school full time.

So what’s the rest of the story? Until NCDHHS amends the six-foot rule and HB 37 becomes law, not much will change for students in Iredell-Statesville Schools.

Dr. Jeff James is the superintendent for Iredell-Statesville Schools.

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