Johnston County students won’t return for in-person classes in September as planned.

Johnston County school leaders had planned to begin in-person instruction on Sept. 8 for elementary school students and K-12 special-education students in self-contained classrooms. But on Thursday, the school board voted 4-3 to extend online learning for the district’s 36,000 students through the end of the first grading period on Oct. 15.

Superintendent Eric Bracy said it was not yet safe to return for face-to-face classes, noting how Johnston County has the ninth highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state. He also noted how the district’s new COVID-19 dashboard ( shows 14 school employees tested positive in August and 65 employees are under quarantine.

A motion to continue bringing back K-3 students and self-contained students on Sept. 8 while only delaying grades 4 and 5 was disallowed because it came after voting had begun.

Johnston’s decision comes as other Triangle districts, including Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties also plan to continue remote instruction into October. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is planning to use online classes for the entire fall semester, not sending students back to campus until January.

Johnston County had joined the majority of North Carolina school districts in opening the school year last week with remote instruction. More than 70% of the state’s public school students are using remote learning at the start of the school year.

Students out of school since March

Most of the state’s students haven’t had face-to-face classes since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered schools closed for in-person instruction in mid-March to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Cooper allowed K-12 public schools to reopen in August under a “moderate social distancing” plan that limits how many students can be in schools and on buses. This Plan B also mandates daily temperature checks and health screenings, increased school cleanings and that face coverings be worn by all students and school employees.

Plan B requires schools to limit capacity so they can maintain 6 feet between people in classrooms. Bus capacity is reduced to a third of normal under the new social-distancing requirements.

But Cooper also gave school districts the option to use Plan C, which only has remote instruction. He’s not permitting schools to reopen for full-time, in-person instruction, which is Plan A.

School districts that have reopened under Plan B have dealt with COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

Some districts have had to temporarily switch individual schools from in-person classes to remote learning because so many staff members are under quarantine.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.

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