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No decision on Plan A for elementary students

The Beaufort County Board of Education took no immediate action Monday night after considering the possibility of allowing pre-k through fifth-grade students to return to school up to four days per week.

The meeting came just two business days after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced last Thursday that school systems throughout the state would be allowed to bring elementary-age students back into the classroom up to five days a week.

Last Tuesday, the board voted 5-4 to allow all Beaufort County Schools students to return to the classroom under a staggered schedule of two days of face-to-face learning and three days of remote learning each week. For the time being, that decision will stand.

“We’re under Plan B, which I’m excited about,” BCS Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman said after the meeting. “The students will come back on Oct. 15, and we’re going to continue working on our safety protocols to make sure our kids and employees are going to be safe coming back. On the flip side of that, we need to make sure our remote instruction is still rigorous for children who choose not to come back face-to-face. We need to make sure they’re getting the skills they need to be successful. We still have a lot of work to do.”

THE PLAN, FOR NOW

Under the Plan B schedule, students will be broken into two groups, with Group A going to school Mondays and Tuesdays and Group B in class Thursdays and Fridays. All students will participate in remote learning on Wednesdays, while school system staff members perform deep cleaning at each school. Students will also participate in remote learning on the days they are not in the classroom, and parents also have the option to keep their children enrolled solely via remote learning, if they so choose.

The board still has the option to revisit Plan A for pre-k through fifth-grade students at a later date.

LOGISTICS AND CONCERNS

Before the meeting adjourned, the Board of Education had the opportunity to hear from administrators at every public school in Beaufort County, as well as other staff members. While the majority of administrators expressed a willingness to act on the decision of the board, they all brought concerns to the table, including:

  • The educational and financial welfare of students and families for whom remote learning is not working;
  • Students who are not currently learning, have no transportation, no adult supervision, who have been essentially trapped in their homes since March or are dealing with homelessness;
  • High anxieties among teachers and staff about having students back in the classroom, including potential exposure to COVID-19;
  • Providing accommodations for teachers and staff who have health concerns;
  • The logistics of transportation, following CDC guidelines on buses and the added challenges of simultaneously accommodating students on Plan A and Plan B schedules;
  • Parents changing their minds about in-person and remote instruction, based on the board’s selection of Plan A or Plan B schedules;
  • Maintaining social distancing, which is required under Plan B, but “strongly recommended” under Plan A;
  • Logistical and scheduling challenges for schools that have both elementary and middle-school students in the same building;
  • What happens when a teacher gets sick or has to be quarantined because of a potential exposure, as well as the availability of substitutes throughout the system;
  • Figuring out who will be responsible for taking temperatures each morning, and whose duty will it be to sit in an isolation room with students who have a temperature;
  • Figuring out the logistics of cleaning schedules in between classes and for common spaces, plus ensuring the availability of PPE, hand sanitizer and cleaning materials;
  • How students move throughout the building, including access to common areas such as playgrounds and cafeterias;
  • Data that show Black students and students with health conditions such as obesity, diabetes may be more susceptible to COVID-19;
  • Assigning some teachers to possibly be remote-only instructors and others to teach entirely face-to-face;
  • Potential issues with ensuring adequate ventilation in classrooms;
  • Ensuring remote learners have the same quality of education as in-person students.

According to the latest polling of parents, school system staff will still face the challenge of providing simultaneous education to students learning both online and in person, even when the school doors reopen. Of 2,682 pre-k through fifth-grade families surveyed, 1,764 expressed a desire to return to school for face-to-face instruction, while 918 said they would rather stick with remote learning.

The next meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Education is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Sept. 29, at the former Beaufort Ed Tech Center.