Come October, elementary schools in North Carolina will no longer have to limit the number of students in the building at any given time — eliminating the need for a rotating week-on, week-off schedule.

However, it’s too soon to say whether Haywood County Schools will exercise that option. A decision is expected during a special-called school board meeting Monday night.

N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper announced the landmark change Thursday afternoon. School systems have the option of bringing K-5 students back to school full tilt, at full capacity, starting Oct. 5. Masks would be required at all times, but social distancing would not be mandatory. Families would still be given the option of choosing an all-remote learning model.

Meanwhile, middle and high schools will continue to be capped at half-capacity, requiring them to stick to the original plan of students tracking in-and-out on alternating weeks.

The news came amid intense planning by Haywood County principals and teachers to resume in-person school starting Monday, Sept. 28.

Devising a back-to-school scenario under so-called plan B was an extraordinary undertaking — figuring out how to teach the rotating groups of in-person students while also accommodating those who opted to stay remote.

“Our people have worked very hard to feed children, provide remote learning, and develop plans to reopen under Plan B,” said Superintendent Bill Nolte.

Whether to turn that planning on its head and bring elementary students back full-time — known as plan A — is something school leaders are still trying to sort out. Adding to the complexity is the requirement that middle and high schools remain on the half-capacity rotation.

That means the school system would be operating not just two, but three different learning models: plan A for elementary, plan B for middle and high, and the all-remote cohort, which about a quarter of the total student body had opted for.

“Authorizing Plan A for only half of the students adds an additional, cumbersome, and unnecessary layer of planning and logistical work for our people,” Nolte said.

The school board voted on Monday night to resume in-person school on Sept. 28. At the time, Nolte warned that everything could change again if the governor gave the green light for bringing students back full-time.

School system officials have been digging into the details of the newly revised state guidelines and holding countywide meetings with principals and staff to think through the pros and cons and make a recommendation to the school board by Monday.

Meanwhile, Shining Rock Classical Academy charter school is likewise assessing whether to bring its K-5 students back full-time, with a decision expected as its board meeting Wednesday.

Shining Rock resumed in-person school in early August with students coming on alternating days — potentially making it easier to now ramp up the number of students in a classroom as opposed to a cold-turkey re-entry at full capacity.

“For six weeks now, we have trained our kids in mask wearing and physical distancing, so if we decide to add more capacity they would be able to self regulate,” Head of School Joshua Morgan said. “We built our plan B to roll into plan A if that decision came.”

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