Monday, July 4, 2022

What will public schools look like when – and if – they reopen? [Free]

Public school systems are preparing to roll out multiple learning options depending on key Covid-19 metrics. (Port City Daily/File photo)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — Guidance on how to live with the coronavirus in the community seems to change daily.

The uncertainty surrounding what to do about the virus has left families, educators, and students hanging, unclear on how to prepare for the academic year ahead.

Educators in North Carolina have been given three options to prepare for — A, B, and C — while awaiting state leaders’ anticipated decision on which to move ahead with by July 1.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Instruction, and the State Board of Education will jointly inform educators which option they choose, while still encouraging flexibility of moving between options at the forefront.

At this point, it’s unclear whether the state will give school districts with mild to moderate Covid-19 metrics the leeway to operate on their own phase while more severely affected areas employ a more locked-down approach. The Department of Public Instruction has acknowledged each school has the authority and flexibility to meet local needs, outside of a forthcoming executive order from the governor.

DPI has instructed all school districts to be ready to transition in and out of each of the below options as key Covid-19 metrics change:

Option A

This plan would put all students back to school with minimal social distancing. It would essentially take the learning environment back to its pre-Covid-19 status but with new sanitation measures.

Areas where students tend to congregate would be monitored for social distancing, including restrooms, locker rooms, and hallways. Cafeterias could be closed with the option to deliver meals to classrooms and recess may be staggered.

Option B

Capping capacity in school facilities at 50%, option B is the most complex of the three plans under consideration. It would mean busses and school buildings would be occupied at half their rated capacity, with room for proper social distancing.

This may require alternating in-person attendance half-days, days or weeks, with a blended learning model. Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates said in a board meeting Tuesday that in calls with the state’s superintendents, this option is giving them “the most grief.”

Oates said in his opinion, this option would create unnecessary hardship and instability. Under this option, BCS is considering possibly having high schools use all remote learning, leaving the facilities open to elementary and middle school students who require more hands-on assistance.

To accommodate social distancing on busses, which Oates said puts about eight students on a bus, it would cost the school district an additional $30,000 a day, about $5.4 million a year.

Option C

The final option would put things back to what they were in April and May — all remote learning.

This option presents a particular challenge to younger students, who require more hands-on learning and may not be as intimately familiar with technology platforms as older students.

Aside from students, this would also create a severe hardship for working parents. Parents may not have the resources to hire assistance to watch over children if they must be physically present for their job. Plus, parents working remotely will continue to have a difficult time balancing multiple roles at once, especially with younger children.

Not all families have internet access, which presents the school district with another challenge.

At New Hanover County Schools, the district is evaluating the need for devices as well as connectivity, which tends to be the greater issue, according to the schools’ spokesperson. In the spring, NHCS had enough device to meet all students in need, its spokesperson said.

BCS has enough devices for its student population, though securing connectivity will likely serve as another hurdle.

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