County schools to go all virtual for first four weeks

Published 4:57 pm Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Following a 5-4 vote of the Beaufort County Board of Education on Tuesday night, local schools will start back with remote learning for the first four weeks of the fall semester.

Voting in favor of online learning for the first four weeks were Mac Hodges, Terry Williams, E.C. Peed, Eltha Booth and Michael Bilbro. Butch Oliver, Terry Draper, Carolyn Walker and T.W. Allen, meanwhile, voted in favor of students returning to the classroom in August.

“Last night, the Board of Education really thought about the safety and wellness of all of our students and all of our employees, and decided what was best for all involved is that we start in a remote setting, in a similar fashion to so many other districts in the state.” BCS Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman said Wednesday.

Under the “Modified Plan B” selected by the board, all Beaufort County Schools students will learn remotely from Aug. 17 up through Sept. 11. The only exception to that plan will be Beaufort County Early College High School.

After Sept. 11, students will likely attend school on a modified schedule, consisting of two days of in-person instruction at school and three days of remote learning at home. School buildings will be closed on Wednesdays to allow for deep cleaning.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCHOOLS REOPEN?

On Monday, BCS held its first in a series of three community forums, detailing plans for reopening school buildings and addressing questions submitted by the community. Cheeseman says Tuesday’s decision has since put a greater emphasis on the remote-learning element.

“What has changed for us is we have to really think about how we can be successful in a remote-learning status when 1,080 of our students have no access to broadband internet,” Cheeseman said. “What’s changing for us is our approach to connecting with families that don’t have access. Now there’s even a greater urgency of ensuring we get it right, very fast, for those kids.”

The following are some of those questions, and the school system’s response, as laid out by BCS Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman. Additional forums are scheduled at Northside High School on July 28 at 5:30 p.m., followed by a third forum at Southside High School on Aug. 6 at 5:30 p.m.

Q: What does it look like to be a student under Plan B?

A: Students will come to school in groups two days per week, either on Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. All students will engage in remote learning on Wednesdays, while schools are closed for deep cleaning. For three days out of the week, students will be remote learning from home or some other environment provided by parents.

Q: What does remote learning look like in the fall?

A: While only half of students will physically be in the school building at any given time, teachers will be instructing students face-to-face and online at the same time. Each child will continue to follow a class schedule throughout the day, even on days they are at home. If they are scheduled to arrive in class at 8 a.m., they should be online at the same time when they are learning elsewhere.

“A student will feel as though they are going to school for two days, but we need parents’ help to make sure kids feel as though they are engaged in school for five,” Cheeseman said.

Q: What if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19 in my child’s class?

A: Cheeseman says BCS is working closely with the Beaufort County Health Department to plan for these contingencies, and it ultimately will be handled on a case-by-case basis. While medical confidentiality prevents the school system from identifying a student or staff member in such a case, BCS will inform parents directly. Health officials will then make recommendations as to whether additional students should be tested.

Q: What does starting the day look like?

A: The day may have to start a little bit earlier in the home. Parents are asked to take their child’s temperatures each morning and fill out a daily form attesting that their students have not experienced any symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19. That piece of paper will serve as the student’s ticket to get on the bus and enter the school building. Thirty copies of the form will be provided for each child during back to school night.

Q: What’s the plan for bus riders?

A: Initially, the state recommended taking temperatures before students get on the bus. Instead, students will show their screening form to the driver before boarding. Students will sit one to a seat on the bus, except for kids from the same family.

Q: What happens when they get to school?

A: Arriving at the building, students will be asked to show the daily form from their parents and will have their temperatures taken. Cheeseman said this may result in longer drop-off times for car riders. If students have a temperature of 100.4 degrees or above, the student will be separated from other students for the parent to return and pick them up.

Q: What happens when they enter the school?

A: Students will immediately go to their assigned classroom, with no congregating in the hallways. Each classroom will be set up at 50% capacity or less, with six feet of space between each student and staff member. A typical classroom may have 12 students. Instead of having lunch in the cafeteria, employees will bring student lunches to the classroom.

Q: How do you expect my child to wear a mask all day?

A: “Hopefully with your help,” Cheeseman said, acknowledging a range of opinions and the difficulties that can come with wearing a mask for a prolonged period of time. In addition to the five reusable masks per student being provided by the state, the school system is purchasing masks of its own. In some cases, schools may provide opportunities to take off masks and wear face shields instead. Masks are required statewide for every child and employee, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Q: What about children who have medical conditions?

A: There will be exceptions and accommodations for students who have medical conditions that could prevent them from wearing a mask. Administrators will work with parents to iron out those accommodations.

Q: What about classes like art, music, band and PE?

A: These classes will largely be contingent on the plans put together at each individual school. This will be guided by factors such as room layout, curriculum and what type of activities the teacher plans to offer their students.

Q: How about athletics?

A: BCS is following the lead of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association with regard to practices and games. Some school districts throughout the state have suspended athletics indefinitely. BCS has not taken such a step.

Q: What if I don’t want my child in the school building?

A: Parents who want their child to participate in exclusively remote learning may do so. Cheeseman says representatives from each school will be reaching out to every family in Beaufort County in the next week to confirm if they want their children to return to the school building.

Q: What if my child doesn’t have access to technology?

A: The Beaufort County Board of Education has invested a considerable portion of federal coronavirus aid in technology, ensuring every child will have access to a device. In cases where students lack broadband internet, schools will provide access to Wi-Fi at locations throughout the county. Cheeseman said Wednesday that administrators were also looking at the logistics of providing wireless hotspots for students to take home.

Q: How can I help promote my child’s overall wellness?

A: Cheeseman says that communication between parents and schools will be crucial to helping provide for the needs of kids; from something as simple as calling ahead to let the school know it’s going to be a bad day, to keeping kids at home if needed.