Documenting America’s Path to Recovery: August 12, 2020

Each day, we:

  • Track the status of reopening in all 50 states.
  • Compare the status of one industry or activity across the country.
  • Answer key questions about state school reopening plans.
  • Give you the latest stories on other reopening plans and ideas.

Want to know what happened yesterday? Click here.


Since our last edition

What is open in each state? For a continually updated article on reopening status in all 50 states, click here. For our last edition, click here.

  • Kansas (divided government): The Kansas Department of Education released updated recommendations for returning to in-person education. The document breaks the recommendations into color levels—green, yellow, orange, and red—based on criteria such as the number of students missing school, number of new cases, and local hospital capacity. There are separate recommendations for Pre-K through grade 5 and grades 6 through 12 at the yellow and orange levels.
  • Nevada (divided government): Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed legislation limiting the civil liability of most businesses in the state. To qualify for protection, businesses must adhere to government-imposed health and safety standards. The bill does not limit liabilities for schools, hospitals, and other health services.
  • New Hampshire (divided government): Gov. Chris Sununu (R) issued an executive order requiring masks at any scheduled event with more than 100 people. Sununu said that the Sturgis motorcycle rally prompted him to issue the order with Laconia Motorcycle Week less than two weeks away.
  • New Jersey (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed an executive order on Aug. 12 allowing public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities to offer in-person instruction when they reopen. Schools will decide whether to offer remote learning, in-person instruction, or a hybrid approach. Schools that cannot meet requirements set out by the New Jersey Department of Education will be required to begin the school year remotely.
  • Oregon (Democratic trifecta): The Oregon Department of Education released updated school reopening guidelines on Aug. 11 that allow schools to reopen to in-person instruction if the school has 250 students or fewer, is in a county with fewer than 30,000 residents, and if the county has reported no more than 30 COVID-19 cases in the past three weeks.
  • Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) announced on Aug. 12 she was delaying the start of the school year until Sept. 14. She previously said she wanted schools to reopen at the end of August.
  • Tennessee (Republican trifecta): Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said on Aug. 12 that the Tennessee Department of Education was encouraging school districts to mandate face coverings for middle and high school students.
  • Wyoming (Republican trifecta): On Aug. 12, Gov. Mark Gordon (R) issued a revised public health order that extends restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and performance spaces through the end of the month and eases restrictions on outdoor gatherings beginning Aug. 16. The new restrictions on gatherings will allow venues to accommodate up to 50% capacity, with a maximum of 1,000 people so long as social distancing is observed.

Tracking industries: Restaurants

All 50 states are reopening in some way. Here, we give the status of one industry or activity across the states. Today’s question: in which states may you dine in at a restaurant?

We last looked at restaurants in the August 5th edition of the newsletter. Since then, no states have opened or closed dine-in services. On Aug. 10, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said it was still too risky to allow indoor dining across the state, citing a study on the spread of the virus in a restaurant in China.

This is an in-depth summary of two state plans to reopen public K-12 schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

North Carolina’s Lighting Our Way Forward

On June 11, 2020, the State Board of Education approved the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s, plan for school re-opening, Lighting Our Way Forward.

On July 14, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) announced that schools must operate under either a hybrid or fully-online plan. Districts are required to offer online-only instruction for students who are at high risk or who choose not to return to in-person instruction. In his announcement, Cooper said, “There are no decisions more important than the ones about our children and our schools. This announcement today is the result of careful, collaborative, and painstaking work. There is much risk in not going back to in-person school. We know that schools provide so much more than just academic lessons.”

Public schools operating on a traditional schedule will begin instruction on August 17. According to EdWeek, public schools in North Carolina traditionally start the year in late August.

Cooper closed public schools in the state for two weeks on March 14. On March 23, he extended the closure through May 15. On April 24, he announced that public schools were closed for the remainder of the school year.


North Carolina has a divided government. The governor is a Democrat, and Republicans have majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state has had a divided government since 2017.

The following tables show public education statistics in North Carolina, including a rank comparing it to the other 49 states. Rank one is the highest number of each figure, rank 50 is the lowest. All data comes from the Common Core of Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

North Carolina public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $9,928 45
Number of students (’18-’19) 1,552,497 9
Number of teachers (’16-17) 100,220 10
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 2,684 9
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 15.5 20
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 57.4% 14
North Carolina public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $13,681,971,000 14
Percent from federal sources 12.2% 6
Percent from state sources 62.4% 8
Percent from local sources 25.4% 45


District reopening plans

School districts are required to develop their own reopening plans that comply with the requirements outlined in the state’s guidance document. Those plans are:

  • Plan A: Minimal Social Distancing
    • Least restrictive plan with social distancing required only where individuals may congregate, such as hallways, reception areas, cafeteria, restrooms, and locker rooms
    • School facilities are open; all students may be in school at the same time
    • Traditional instruction with preparation for Blended Learning
  • Plan B: Moderate Social Distancing
    • School facilities are open with additional requirements for social distancing and minimizing exposure and transportation.
    • Limit density of people in school facilities to adhere to health and safety requirements. (Note: 50% population density was deleted as of 7/14.20).
    • Enhanced health protocols
    • Blended Learning for all
  • Place C: Remote Learning Only
    • School facilities are closed. Students are not permitted in facilities. Employees may or may not be permitted in school buildings based on Executive Order or other state requirements. (Updated 7/10.20)
    • Remote learning for all students, based on Remote Instruction Plans (SPLN-006) submitted on July 20, 2020, to NCDPI as a framework for quality remote learning

Individual districts may choose to open under Plan B, which has some in-person instruction, or Plan C, which is entirely virtual. All districts are required to offer a fully virtual option. Schools may choose between Plan B or Plan C at any time.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

Districts that choose a hybrid model are required to limit capacity to a level that will allow students and staff to adhere to a six-foot social distance. The state’s reopening guidelines suggest that scheduling for hybrid learning should be determined by individual school districts. The guidelines offer suggestions for alternating days, alternating weeks, or blending which grade levels would attend in person and which would attend virtually.

Mask requirements

All students, teachers, and staff are required to wear masks or face coverings.

In-person health recommendations and requirements

On June 8, 2020, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services released the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit, a series of guidelines for in-person public education. When learning is done in-person, the following precautions are required, according to EducationNC:

  • Limit the total number of students, staff, and visitors within a school building to the extent necessary to ensure 6 feet distance can be maintained when students/staff will be stationary
  • Conduct symptom screening, including temperature checks
  • Establish a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in the school and transportation vehicles regularly
  • Require frequent hand washing throughout the school day and provide hand sanitizer at entrances and in every classroom
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups
  • Limit nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups
  • Discontinue use of self-service food or beverage distribution

Schools must conduct regular screenings for COVID-19 symptoms and isolate individuals who show symptoms. Staff and students must stay home if they test positive for COVID-19, show symptoms, or have come in close contact with a person who has COVID-19. The guidelines provide criteria to return for three scenarios:

  • People diagnosed with COVID-19 but without symptoms must stay home for 10 days after the diagnosis, assuming no symptoms arise.
  • People diagnosed based on symptoms are not required to show a negative test to return to school. A person can return to school if they receive confirmation of an alternative diagnosis from a health care provider that would explain the COVID-19-like symptom(s), or once there is no fever without the use of fever-reducing medicines and they have felt well for 24 hours.
  • People who have been in close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 must remain out of school for 14 days, even if they do not test positive for the virus.

Schools are required to ensure that six feet of distance is possible and marked out for students and staff during times where students and staff are more likely to come in contact, such as at lunch or during recess. Capacity for common areas is limited to the number that would allow for six-foot social distancing.

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

The state’s face mask requirement for students and staff also applies to transportation. Buses are limited to one student per seat. Screening for symptoms, including temperature checks, may be conducted prior to boarding transportation.


After Cooper announced that districts would have the option for reopening under Plan B or Plan C, North Carolina Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly said, said:

Educators want to be back in school buildings. We miss and value the relationships we have with students and their families. The careful approach Governor Cooper has taken in all of his re-opening decisions has been deeply appreciated, and while we understand that this was a difficult choice, we must make the safety of our educators and students the first priority.

North Carolina Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) criticized Cooper’s decision to limit district choices to Plans B and C. In a statement, Berger said:

The Governor’s plan makes worse the very inequities a public school system is supposed to resolve. Students whose parents do not have the time or resources to supplement ‘virtual’ schooling will fall even further behind simply because of the condition of their birth. That’s an unspeakable travesty. And parents who do not have the privilege of working from home can’t take off every other day from work. What are they supposed to do? The Governor permits parents to choose full remote learning — he must also permit parents to choose full in-person learning as well.

North Dakota’s K-12 Smart Restart

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction released its school reopening guidance, titled K-12 Smart Restart, on July 14. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) said, “North Dakota’s children are looking to us as adults to help them adjust to life with COVID-19. They will be watching us and looking to us for answers, guidance and security. Today’s guidance is the next step in that journey. We are committed to supporting and partnering with our schools and families to provide a safe, high-quality education experience for all students.”

State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said, “School boards and administrators will be making difficult decisions to ensure the health and well-being of their communities and limit the spread of COVID-19 while fulfilling their overall mission of educating students. They are in the best position to make the dozens and dozens of judgment calls that will be necessary every day and changing as the days go on.”

North Dakota does not have a statewide date for public schools to reopen. According to EdWeek, public schools in North Dakota traditionally start the academic year in late August to early September, with the exact start date varying by district.

On March 15, Gov. Burgum closed schools for one week, effective March 16. On March 19, Burgum extended the closure indefinitely. The governor closed schools for the rest of the academic year on May 1. On May 11, he announced schools could reopen starting on June 1 for summer programs, though they were not required to.


North Dakota has a Republican trifecta. The governor is a Republican, and Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. The state became a Republican trifecta in 1995.

The following tables show public education statistics in North Dakota, including a rank comparing it to the other 49 states. Rank one is the highest number of each figure, rank 50 is the lowest. All data comes from the Common Core of Data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

North Dakota public school metrics
Category Figure 50-state rank
Per pupil spending (’16-’17) $16,632 12
Number of students (’18-’19) 111,658 48
Number of teachers (’16-17) 9,265 46
Number of public schools (’18-’19) 525 43
Student:teacher ratio (’18-’19) 12.0 48
Percent qualifying for free/reduced lunch (’16-’17) 30.9% 49
North Dakota public school revenue
Category Figure 50-state rank
Total revenue $1,578,414,000 49
Percent from federal sources 10.1% 18
Percent from state sources 58.7% 11
Percent from local sources 31.2% 41


District reopening plans

Each school district is responsible for developing Health and Safety plans regarding in-person instruction, which district school boards must approve in consultation with local public health units. Each school is also required to have a board-approved Distance Learning Plan, along with a hybrid plan. Schools are required to post the plans on a publicly accessible website.

In-person, hybrid, and online learning

The state’s reopening guide sets forth a color-coded phased approach to returning students to classrooms. The levels—Red (critical risk), Orange (high risk), Yellow (moderate risk), Green (low risk), and Blue (new normal)—are “based on criteria such as the number of cases reported, positivity rates, testing capacity, hospital capacity, occurrence of point-source outbreaks, level of community spread, vulnerable populations affected and ability to protect, the availability of personal protection equipment (PPE), etc.”

Schools in the Red or Orange Phase should remain closed, with all instruction provided remotely. Schools in the Yellow Phase can resume in-person instruction if they have a Health and Safety Plan approved by the district’s school board. In the Yellow Phase, guidance states that plans should emphasize facial coverings, personal hygiene, and social distancing. In the Green Phase, the guidance says that “some physical distancing measures and limitations on gatherings will still be recommended to prevent transmission from accelerating again.” For schools in the Blue Phase, “most normal activity can resume, with standard precautions and awareness of health guidelines such as routine hand washing, stay home when sick, cover your cough, education, stockpiling, planning, routine health alerts, etc.”

As long as school plans have been approved, details of each model of learning can vary widely from school to school based on local conditions.

Mask requirements

For schools in the Yellow Phase, guidelines state, “Facial coverings (masks or face shields) should be worn by staff and students when social distancing is not possible.” For those in the Green Phase or Blue Phase, schools are instructed to develop “Guidelines for when facial coverings should be worn by staff and students when social distancing is not possible.”

In-person health recommendations and requirements

State guidelines instruct schools to develop their Health and Safety Plans based on documents released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Dakota Department of Health, and local public health units. Plans must include the following:

  • Process for isolation and quarantine when a staff member, student, or visitor becomes sick or demonstrates a history of exposure.
  • Guidelines for when an isolated or quarantined staff member, staff, or visitor may return to school.
  • Plan for ensuring ongoing communication with families around the elements of the local Health and Safety Plan, including ways that families can practice safe hygiene in the home.
  • Facial coverings (masks or face shields) should be worn by staff and students when social distancing is not possible.
  • Guidelines for hygiene practices for students and staff which include the manner and frequency of hand-washing and other best practices.
  • Protocols for classroom/learning space occupancy that allow for separation among students and staff throughout the day to the maximum extent feasible
  • Protocols for the use of cafeterias, commons areas and other congregate settings for students, faculty and staff.
  • When weather permits, utilization of outdoor spaces is recommended.
  • Protocols for limiting the sharing of materials among students to the maximum amount feasible.

Transportation and busing requirements and restrictions

The guidelines do not specify requirements or restrictions regarding transportation and busing, aside from instructing schools to develop “Protocols for adjusting space occupancy on buses that allow for separation among students to the maximum extent feasible.”


Nick Archuleta, President of ND United, the state’s largest teacher’s union, responded to the state’s guidelines: “As expected, the responsibility for the creation of reopening plans and protocols rests with the local school districts, as it should. To that end, I am imploring local school boards and administrators to be as inclusive as possible as they undertake this important planning. If we are to instill confidence in the minds of parents, students, professional educators, and education support professionals, it is imperative that they have a seat at the table and that their views are seriously considered.”

Additional activity

In this section, we feature examples of other federal, state, and local government activity, as well as influencers relevant to recovering from the pandemic.

  • On Aug. 2, a lawsuit seeking to stop Manatee County’s mask mandate was filed in Florida’s Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court. The lawsuit, one of fourteen filed by attorney and Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini (R) on behalf of plaintiffs across the state, challenges the constitutionality of Manatee County’s Resolution No. R-20-116. The July 27 resolution requires individuals to wear face coverings while inside public businesses. In his complaint, the plaintiff, a Manatee County resident and pastor of a local Baptist church, argues that the mask mandate violates his religious freedom and “should not apply within churches, synagogues and other houses of worship because it interferes with the ability to pray.” The plaintiff also alleges that the mask mandate violates guarantees of privacy and due process under the Florida Constitution, arguing it is impermissibly vague and overbroad, could lead to public disclosure of private medical information, and is an arbitrary and unreasonable deprivation of liberty. Sabatini has filed similar lawsuits against Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Seminole, Orange, Leon, Pinellas, Collier, and Hillsborough counties, as well as the cities of St. Augustine, Key West, DeLand, and Jacksonville. Manatee County officials have not made any public statements concerning the pending suit.