Update: After the press conference, NHCS stated it inaccurately referenced a 50% building capacity requirement that the state has since removed.
NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County Schools will meet the requirements of the state’s “Plan B” by placing students into three groups, with a one week in-person and two-week remote schedule.
The three-week shifts will alternate so that each school can accommodate students in-person while limiting building capacity, requiring 6 ft. of social distancing to prevent the spread as Covid-19.
Related: Gov. Cooper announces re-extension of Phase 2 and school reopening plan [Free]
Siblings will be permitted to attend the same groups. Special education students and early English learning students in year two or less will be permitted to attend in-person uninterrupted.
Three groups, three weeks
NHCS Interim Superintendent Dr. Del Burns announced the plan at a press conference Wednesday morning. Additional plans and details are forthcoming.
“There is no great plan under Plan B,” Burns said. “What I think the district is going to start with is reasonable so that we can determine if the logistics are going to work and give us an opportunity, if necessary, to make adjustments.”
Families statewide are given the option to choose a remote-only learning environment. NHCS staff members may request a remote-only work environment for approval by their principals on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the schools’ needs. Each request will be assessed individually, Burns said.
Asked if this meant staff members aren’t guaranteed jobs if they aren’t comfortable returning to work in-person, Burns said staff members are guaranteed employment through their contracts. The site of work can be determined by the district according to need, Burns said. Nearly 52% of faculty that responded to NHCS’s recent survey reported they would prefer remote-only work.
Staff vacancies are on par with recent years, Burns said, but potential shortfalls may be imminent. “There are not enough teachers in North Carolina,” Burns said. “There is not a surplus. So staffing will be a concern going forward.”
As one-third of students attend school each week, transportation will present challenges for the school district. Burns said there will be a greater distance between stops which may present difficulty in getting students to school on time. With Governor Roy Cooper’s new mandate for all K-12 students and staff members to wear masks in school, Burns said some transportation issues may be alleviated. Instead of just 12 students per bus, one student can occupy each seat with the face mask requirement, with siblings permitted to sit side-by-side.
An additional employee will likely need to ride on buses with students to assist with screening efforts. Burns said NHCS will utilize its existing workforce to conduct in-person screenings, with each student receiving symptom and temperature checks daily.
During the two-week remote period, Burns said ensuring students are assisted or looked after in households where one or more parents must attend work in-person is a great concern. “I expect we’ll do our best but there are again more questions than there are answers at the moment,” Burns said.
For low-income and disadvantaged students, Burns said NHCS will strategically deploy WiFi hotspots. Meal pick-up will be available for students during remote-only instruction weeks but no delivery options will be continued when the school year begins.
About 60% of NHCS faculty reported in a survey they were comfortable returning to school facilities in-person, Burns said. About 27% of respondents said they would not be comfortable returning to in-person instruction.
Burns said overall, the response from faculty and parents has been mixed regarding returning to in-person learning.
NHCS is fine-tuning a reopening guide among school principals and will release it to the public next week, he said. A family guide will be released later this week.
Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at email@example.com