Update: On Thursday, New Hanover County Schools released the agenda for an upcoming meeting which showed Dr. Del Burns, the district’s interim superintendent, was now pushing for ‘Plan C’ — an online-only approach — for reopening. However, the Board of Education will have to approve Burns’ recommendation, and could still opt for the previously announced hybrid approach, mixing in-class and remote instruction.
Note: The statements from board members in this article were given prior to the announcement that Burns wanted to pivot to Plan C.
WILMINGTON — As schools across the state struggle to balance safety concerns with the challenges of distance learning, each district is taking its own approach. New Hanover County Schools is no different — and parents have asked both for more data and details, and to know how elected officials will handle the challenge with their own children.
On the one hand, concerns about how well schools can protect against and monitor for new Covid-19 cases have many parents fearing that it is too early to return to in-class instruction. Over half of New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) employees felt the same way, with some going as far as to say they’d use leave time or even retire rather than return to class.
On the other hand, distance learning has its own challenges. Many families have built their work schedules around traditional instruction. When one or both parents have jobs, and teleworking isn’t an option, childcare isn’t always a realistic financial possibility. There are other gaps, too, like internet access and wraparound services — for students with behavioral, cognitive, or ability issues, for example.
Earlier this month, the New Hanover County Board of Education voted to go with Option B, adopting a hybrid approach with one week of in-class education and two weeks of remote learning. Parents have the option to choose an all-remote schedule for their children, avoiding in-class instruction entirely — whether they can afford it, is another issue.
Parents have asked to see the data behind this decision, as well as more details about how, exactly, the plan will work. Interim Superintendent Dr. Del Burns promised at least some of those details would be forthcoming. Some will likely be discussed during the Board’s upcoming interim meeting, slated for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 28 at the Board of Education Center located at 1805 S. 13th Street (and broadcast live here).
The meeting will not include a call to the audience and will not accept public input.
Parents have also asked how Board members with school-age children will handle the challenges of instruction during the pandemic.
All seven board members were asked and three have addressed their decision on the issue: Nelson Beaulieu, Stefanie Adams, and Judy Justice. In a message passed along to Port City Daily, Bill Rivenbark noted that he did not have any school-age children.
Beaulieu said his children would be going back to school — but urged all parents to “make the decision that is best” for their families.
“My children have struggled without their friends and teachers and, for our family, we believe the risk is manageable. Each family really needs to make that decision independent of what we are doing. I’m not thinking or acting as a board member when it comes to my kids’ safety and whether or not they can or should be back in the classroom. I’m thinking as a father. People should not look at what we are doing and assume that it’s safe for their families too.”
Justice said her school-age grandchildren, who live with her, would be returning to class. Justice, who has not always seen eye to eye with fellow board members, said, in this case, the board is working “very hard” to do the right thing.
Adams posted on social media that “our family will most likely select an all-virtual option” for her child. Adams noted that she was “privileged” to have a flexible job and a family support system that would allow her to make that decision. Adams acknowledged this wouldn’t be the “right choice” for everyone, but said the district was working “to find solutions that support all families and educators.”