Full-time in person school eyed for younger students
Clay County Schools younger students may get to return to classrooms full time within a couple of weeks. A press release from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office explained that COVID-19 trends had stabilized and the state is continuing to see low virus spread in school settings. Beginning Monday, Oct 5, “North Carolina public school districts and charter schools can choose to implement Plan A for elementary schools for kindergarten thru fifth grade.”
Plan A continues to include important safety measures like face coverings for all students, teachers and staff, social distancing and symptom screening, but does not require schools to reduce the number of children in the classroom. Clay County Schools Superintendent Dale Cole said the schools are working to determine what will be best for local students. “The principals at Hayesville Primary School and Hayesville Elementary School have been contacting the parents of fully remote students and asking them if they plan to send their children back to school if we have a five day per week schedule,” Cole said. “They have also contacted the parents of face-to-face students and asked if they plan to leave their children face- to-face if we move to a five day schedule as some may have health and safety concerns about that change and wish to move to virtual instead. Full remote instruction will still be a choice, so we want to make sure our families understand all of the options before making a decision. The principals at HPS and HES need to hear from every parent of kindergarten thru fifth grade students on this.”
Once the administrators meet to discuss the best options for Clay County students, it may be discussed at the school board meeting on Monday, Sept.28. However, the school board will support the return if that is what is recommended. “Our school board has always been clear they would like to offer full-time instruction to students if it can be done safely,” Cole continued. “The governor and his NCDHHS team, using the research compiled over the last few months, have determined this to be safe enough to warrant the risk with regards to Pre-K through fifth grade students for school districts that choose to do so.”
Cole said the number of COVID cases in Clay County will impact the decision, but they are currently low. “There will be a certain amount of health risk in bringing these students back full time, but there are a lot of other health and wellbeing risks in not having them here with us,” he said. “Add to that the economic impact our current Plan B has on the local economy and family finances and it just makes more sense to have our elementary students here every day.” When asked what precautions will be taken since flu season is beginning soon, Cole replied, “We will continue to check everyone's temperatures daily before they enter the building and we will continue to ask parents to help us screen students before sending them to school. Our environmental services team will continue to clean our buildings daily and we now have the ability to completely disinfect all surfaces in every room daily.” Other precautions include students eating meals outside while social distancing or in their individual classrooms on rainy days. Plus, all students, staff and visitors to the school must wear masks.
“This will allow us to eliminate as much cross spread as possible if we have COVID positives,” Cole said. The state has not provided transportation guidelines so administrators are not sure whether they will be allowed to place school busses on Plan A. “If we have to continue under Plan B for buses, any new face-to-face students will have to be transported by their parents to and from school as our buses are already operating at max capacity under Plan B guidelines,” Cole added. “The state should be making a decision on that this week.”
Per Cooper’s July announcement, all school districts have the flexibility to choose Plan A, B or C. “We are able to open this option because most North Carolinians have doubled down on our safety and prevention measures and stabilized our numbers,” the governor said. “North Carolinians are doing the hard work to improve our numbers and trends. Many people are wearing masks, keeping social distance and being careful to protect others as well as themselves. We have shown that listening to the science works. I’m proud of our resolve.”
Not only are lab confirmed COVID cases declining in the state, but the number of COVID hospitalizations are declining across the state. The press release said the state’s capacity to respond has gotten much better if there is another increase in cases. That capacity is due to an expansion of testing access, including no-cost testing events; more contact tracing and stable supplies of Personal Protective Equipment.
The press release said current science indicates younger children are less likely to become infected, nor have symptoms, spread the virus or experience severe illness from it. Superintendent of N.C. Department of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said, “It’s great news today that we are a step closer to providing the option of inperson learning to families who want their children to return to school. “ He continued, “While the governor, the State Board of Education and I have our differences, I join with them today to encourage local school board members to take advantage of this change and open all schools safely. I thank the many parents and teachers across North Carolina who have been vocal advocates on this important issue.”
Eric Davis, Chair of N.C. State Board of Education said, “For the past six months, superintendents, principals, teachers and local BOE have worked diligently to care for the safety of our students and staff while educating our children. While we are anxious to return all students, we know that teachers, principals and students need a gradual transition over the next three months. I ask our parents to remain patient, knowing that we are moving as quickly as is safely possible. I ask our teachers to continue to assist our students by supporting this deliberate, thoughtful transition."
Cole added, “We know that everyone understands the virus is still out there and we will continue to monitor everyone. Should it be necessary due to a surge in positives and quarantines, we can always move back to Plan B or even C. As with everything else, we will make our decisions based on what is best for the overall health, safety and learning of our students in partnership with the Clay County Health Department.”