• The State Board of Education (SBE) and NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), in consultation with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), have developed Lighting Our Way Forward: North Carolina's Guidebook for Reopening Public Schools in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis. The purpose of this guidance document is to support NC public schools and communities in developing their plans and strategies for reopening schools in the 2020-21 school year. As public school units (PSUs) work to operationalize these recommendations, it is critical to be intentional and prepared for change as the year unfolds in light of public health needs. 

    Guiding Principles for Reopening Schools

    NC Public Schools will

    • consider the safety and wellness of students and employees, first and foremost;
    • respond to the needs of vulnerable and high needs populations; 
    • be adaptable and flexible with the ability to move throughout the academic year from one Reopening Plan to another based on public health needs;
    • synergize multiple operational and academic factors to develop effective plans; 
    • ensure engagement with all voices represented in the schools; 
    • maintain consistent communication with students, families, and employees to ensure respect and success within the evolving situation.

    This approach is built upon the guidance and recommendations of public health officials; it is aligned to the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit (K-12) from June 8, 2020, and updated June 24/June 30/July 14/July 24. It is designed to help districts prioritize the health and safety of students and teachers as they reopen school buildings and deliver instruction for the 2020-21 school year.

    As statewide and local COVID-19 public health needs change over time, it is critical for all public schools to plan for a variety of learning scenarios for the 2020-21 school year. All NC public schools will need to consider multiple factors as they prepare to reopen, including community health needs, student and employee safety, operations, and teaching and learning strategies. 

    Lighting Our Way Forward: NC’s Guidebook for Reopening Public Schools provides considerations, recommendations, and best practices to ensure a safe and successful 2020-21 school year. Except for requirements designated by executive orders issued by the Governor’s Office, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina General Statutes, and North Carolina State Board of Education Policy, the guidance, and recommendations contained within this document are not mandated. Public School Units (PSUs) have the authority and the flexibility to meet their local needs and be responsive to their communities. As impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic evolve, the SBE and NCDPI will continue to provide updated guidance and recommendations to districts and schools on navigating the academic, social, and emotional effects on students and employees.

    Guidance and action regarding school building closure may come in a variety of ways:

    1. A statewide executive order issued by the Governor, such as Executive Order No. 117 issued on March 14, 2020
    2. NC Department of Health and Human Services guidance 
    3. State Board of Education action 
    4. Local health department guidance
    5. Local Educational Agency/Charter School action

    In addition to the StrongSchoolsNC Toolkit which lists the specific requirements that schools need to implement, DHHS has also developed very specific protocols for what school staff needs to do if an individual is symptom-positive or has contracted COVID-19.  Links to both of those documents (in English and Spanish), as well as an FAQ on the guidance, is below.


    last updated July 29, 2020