Sunday, July 14, 2024

Brunswick Schools sticks with remote start despite pressure to reopen, split board

Thousands of children and families will begin the academic year remotely in Brunswick County, where in-person instruction has been delayed by 4.5 weeks. (Port City Daily/File photo)
Thousands of children and families will begin the academic year remotely in Brunswick County, where in-person instruction has been delayed by 4.5 weeks. (Port City Daily/File photo)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — As parents and educators gear up to begin the 2020-2021 academic year remotely next week, uncertainty surrounds how public schools will handle the transition.

Despite mounting pressure from the community to reopen earlier, the Brunswick County School Board stuck to its original plan to delay in-person instruction 4.5 weeks at its board meeting Monday.

Related: After split vote, Brunswick Schools will delay in-class instruction for 4.5 weeks

A delayed reopening plan was adopted via a split 3-2 vote last month.

The board remains divided on how to operate with Covid-19, with two board members, Gerald Benton and Charlie Miller, still preferring to reopen schools sooner rather than later.

According to a Brunswick County spokesperson, the county has logged a total of 152 documented positive cases in children under 17 years old. Brunswick County Health Services is aware of six cases involving child care settings. No clusters (five or more cases linked to one facility) have been identified in Brunswick County childcare centers to date.

Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates shared an update on what in-person learning will look like once the remote period ends Wednesday, Sept. 16. Asked whether it was possible to reopen any earlier, staff members said at this point, it would be chaotic to shift the start date.

Students will be split into two cohorts, A and B, with siblings kept in the same group. The A group will attend school in-person Mondays and Tuesdays while the B group will attend in-person on Thursdays and Fridays, with all groups out of school for remote learning on Wednesdays.

BCS is matching students to cohorts in order to maximize transportation efficiency and balance class size, among other concerns. Approximately 3,500 students will attend BCS’ remote-only program for the entire semester, about 28% of the district’s student population. That leaves 9,000 to return to a classroom setting once the remote period has ended. The sign-up period for remote-only instruction has passed and will not reopen, officials said.

Incorporating guidance from the county’s health department, BCS will reopen its facilities to ensure social distancing and sanitation. Urinals will be covered and water fountains will be replaced with touch-less systems. BCS has spent more than $255,000 this month preparing schools to reopen.

Employees’ school-aged children will be permitted to attend BCS facilities in-person next week through a supervised learning lab. An average of 18 children of employees will be pooled together at each school.

Oates reminded board members that the remote learning experience will be different and far improved from the spring. “The remote learning that we did have started after a weekend. And there was no training involved. So while it may not have been optimal, it was the best that we could do on the fly,” he said, acknowledging parent concerns that remote learning presents a sub-par educational experience.

BCS is allowing families without internet to sign up for hotspot service that will provide connection only to the district’s devices. Each hotspot costs the district $239 for a six-month period.

Reopen v. remote

At the school board meeting Monday, a group of parents could be heard chanting “open safely face to face” as each public speaker entered and exited the building, which limited attendance due to Covid-19 concerns.

Parents at the meeting shared concerns that their children’s desire to learn and motivation had diminished in the spring. Countless parents are facing the impossible choice of forfeiting income to childcare centers or to quit their jobs in order to ensure their young children can learn.

South Brunswick High School Senior LaJuan Daniels shared with the board how disappointed he was to be prevented from returning in-person. Daniels reminded the board of the burden of the remote decision puts on parents and older siblings and the financial dilemma many families are facing.

“As I sit here looking at you guys today, you’re not even six feet apart. Let’s be honest here. But you won’t [let us] go back to school to get an education. It’s hard. I almost want to cry,” Daniels said.

Board member Charlie Miller, whose daughter recently quit her job as a public educator last week to take on a role at a private school, wanted BCS to figure out a way to reopen sooner.

“I’m not one to tell a parent where to put their child. But I am here to provide them a choice. And we are not providing them a choice. We’re dictating to them what they’re going to do,” Miller said.

On the other side of things, board member Ed Lemon said BCS’ current 4.5 week delay was a risk and might involve returning to in-person instruction too soon. Board member Catherine Cooke attended virtually because she is caring for her sick father. She is following strict precautions to prevent spreading Covid-19 and emphasized the harsh reality of the virus for those who have to live with it.

“I know we keep focusing on those that are screaming and demanding that we get them back there earlier, but they’re not the only people in the system. And they’re not the only ones in the county,” Cooke said. “I’m just kind fo fed up with people saying this is not real, this is not legit, this is not a virus. It is real. And people are going to get sick.”

View Dr. Oates’ A/B presentation below:

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