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Local K-5 students to return four days a week

In an emergency meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Education held Friday morning, board members voted 8-1 to bring local pre-k through fifth grade students back to the classroom, four days a week, starting Oct. 12.

Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman says the decision came after the school system took a closer look at the issues surrounding having younger students return on a different schedule than their older peers.

“Some of those issues we’re going to continue to revisit, such as bus and transportation schedules,” Cheeseman said. “We will have split bell times at our K-8 schools such as Bath, Northeast and S.W. Snowden, and even at Chocowinity Middle (which is 5-8). We’re hoping some of the issues we’re facing may be temporary if Gov. (Roy) Cooper elects to return middle school students (on Plan A) in the near future. Then we would be able to return back to one plan for everyone.”

Driving Friday’s decision, Cheeseman said, was a belief on the part of board members and administrators that getting younger students back in the classroom was the right move to care not just for their academic success, but their mental and emotional wellbeing.

“We’re diving deeper into some of the barriers we’re facing and gaining more understanding on how we may be able to work with them,” Cheeseman. “We know our students, especially young kids, are struggling with remote learning and need to be face-to-face. … I truly believe academically, after looking at where we were from August to now, our young people need to get back to school, face-to-face with their teachers. That social-emotional-mental wellness piece is also really important to me. Kids are having a hard time, and I think they’ll get greater support being in school, with that mental health and wellness piece.”

The one dissenting member of the board, Eltha Booth, said that she believes that it is too soon to bring children back into the classroom, with so many uncertainties still surrounding the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m personally not ready to have kids return to school yet,” Booth explained. “I think the pandemic is really too flourishing for them to return to school right now. There are schools across the state that have opened that are closing. That tells me that we’re not quite ready right now. You vote your convictions, and that’s mine. I’m thinking of treating everybody else’s children the way I would treat mine.”

For parents still uncomfortable with the prospect of having their children in the school building, remote learning options will remain available through the fall semester. Sixth through 12th grade students will have the option to return two days a week under Plan B starting Oct. 15, engaging in remote learning for the remaining three days. Wednesday will be a remote learning day for everyone, pre-k through fifth grade students included.

All schools will be communicating student group assignments, bus route details, bell times and other important information to families via social media, Blackboard Connect calls and other mean “as soon as possible,” according to a message from the school system issued Friday morning.

“Why we did this today, and did not wait until next Tuesday night, was that I wanted families to have two full weekends before we came back, so they would have time to prepare and change schedules for their employment and childcare, and then just to truly get ready for school,” Cheeseman said.

For more specifics of the school system’s plan, see the Friday announcement from Beaufort County Schools here.