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Local school districts prepare for coronavirus pandemic

As a precaution against the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools announced Thursday it will make Monday, March 16; Tuesday, March 17 and Wednesday, March 18 optional teach work days and have spring break from Thursday, March 19 to April 3. Students will then begin remote learning in hopes of returning to class on Monday, April 6.

The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 (coronavirus) a pandemic, and North Carolina is now in a state of emergency as universities across the state are closing. In light of this, local school districts are making adjustments to cope. 

Chapel Hill Carrboro-City Schools sent a letter to parents Tuesday night to say the district is canceling all school-sponsored out-of-state travel for students and staff and evaluating in-state trips on a case-by-case basis. The letter said the district is also prohibiting out-of-state visitors to schools. 

“COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to permeate our community conversation,” the letter said. “It is a serious matter, and brings with it very serious consequences, to our health, our schools, our economy, and our way of life.”

OCS is suspending all district-sponsored trips and events for staff and students, and usage of facilities for all outside groups, according to a letter from Monique Felder, superintendent for Orange County Schools. The letter said OCS is requesting families not travel to places deemed high-risk areas by the Centers for Disease Control, and those who do may be asked to self-quarantine for up to 14 days. 

Both letters said additional preparation from the districts includes placing mobile hand-sanitizing stations throughout schools and frequently cleaning common surfaces such as faucets, water fountains, doorknobs and school buses.

Staff will be asked to avoid other contact with people as much as possible, and students exhibiting flu-like symptoms should not be placed on school buses at the end of the school day, according to the CHCCS letter.

Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for CHCCS, said field trips and sporting events are still happening. He said while the daily schedule of teachers and students has not changed, the central office is taking preparation seriously. 

“(It’s a) lot of conference calls, talking to people from the health department, local emergency folks, we’re doing a lot of planning and prep stuff, but at the school level, it’s a regular school day,” he said. 

Nash said CHCCS restricted international travel a few weeks ago. 

CHCCS is working with principals and teachers on developing an extended learning plan to allow students to continue learning with online and offline at-home lessons if school closure becomes a necessity, according to the letter. 

"School districts frequently say that the safety of students and staff is our top priority," Nash said in a statement over email. "However, situations like the one we are now facing put that to the test. Our school and district leaders are devoting considerable time and energy to planning for a variety of scenarios, and how we can best protect our people."

The OCS letter said the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is not recommending preemptive closure of schools and child care centers. 

"This recommendation reflects the current guidance that children are at a low risk of serious illness," the letter said. 

The OCS letter said the district has a staff committee from the district's Student Services Office, Operations Department school nurses, school social workers and the Orange County Department of Health that are meeting regularly and are in constant contact with local and state health officials. 

Nash said CHCCS is in constant communication with the Orange County Health Department and is continuing to monitor frequent updates released by the state and federal health agencies. 

Parents and community members who wish to stay informed can also keep up with CHCCS coronavirus updates here

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.


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