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Plan A/B split would mean challenges for K-8 schools

With Beaufort County Schools students returning to the classroom in two weeks, the Beaufort County Board of Education heard from local principals at the county’s K-8 schools regarding the challenges of bringing back elementary and middle-school students under different schedules and state guidelines.

Currently, all K-12 students in North Carolina are allowed to return to the classroom under a Plan B schedule, which includes reduced class sizes, social distancing requirements and a variety of other safeguards put in place by the state. Locally, those students are slated to return to the classroom Oct. 15, with each grade broken down into two groups that will attend school either on Mondays and Tuesdays, or Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays being a remote-learning day for all students.

Two weeks ago, however, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced that K-5 students may now return to the classroom under a Plan A schedule, which would allow all students to return to the classroom at the same time, with no firm requirements for social distancing.

For K-8 schools such as Bath Elementary, S.W. Snowden and Northeast Elementary, as well as the 5-8 Chocowinity Middle School, the prospect of bringing elementary and middle school students back under different schedules presents a variety of challenges.

“I’m hearing that the governor may come back to the podium, and I’m hopeful that he will say that we can bring back 6-8,” BCS Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman told the board. “Why that’s important is that running plan A and Plan B simultaneously in our K-8 schools, you run into an issue of double rotations and maybe two or three trips for buses, as you may not have enough drivers.”

Cheeseman, K-8 principals and board members shared the following challenges that would still need to be addressed under this model:

  • The scheduling of bus drivers, many of whom serve other roles in the school including those of custodians, cafeteria staff and teacher assistants;
  • Having separate bell times for K-5 students and 6-8 students and how to facilitate supervision for kids being dropped off at the same time as an older or younger sibling;
  • Differing bus requirements for Plan A and Plan B students regarding social distancing and changes to bus schedules;
  • An increase in accommodation requests from staff members and possibly having to transfer staff around the district to adjust to those requests;
  • The logistics of teachers instructing students face-to-face and remotely at the same time;
  • Scheduling of employees such as exceptional children, art, music and PE teachers, who instruct students at multiple grade levels;
  • Employees who have been bringing their own children to school now having to make alternative arrangements;
  • The possibility that students may have to change teachers mid-semester, based on whether families decide to return them to school or keep them enrolled via remote learning.

Though the board did not alter course on the Plan B schedule during the meeting, a recommendation from Cheeseman, if approved, could have elementary students back in the classroom under Plan A sometime in early November. This would give schools time to plan and see how Plan B is working, and the board time to hear about possible updates on 6-8 students from the governor.

As of Monday, school districts in the region were each approaching the return to the classroom in different ways. Pitt, Pamlico, Martin, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank and Currituck county schools are each planning to bring elementary students back under the Plan A schedule. Washington, Hyde, Hertford, Tyrrell and Northampton county schools are still under Plan C, all remote learning, for the time being. Perquimans and Craven counties, meanwhile, remain on a Plan B schedule for all students.

The next meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Education is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Oct. 6, at the former Ed Tech campus.