Thursday, June 8, 2023

New Hanover School Board votes to move to Plan B with some in-class instruction [Free]

Primary election results are in and it appears the chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Education will not appear on the ballot in November. (Port City Daily/Johanna Ferebee)
The New Hanover County Board of Election voted 6-1 to return, at least partially, to in-class instruction. (Port City Daily photo / File)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — As the public remains deeply divided about the potential risks and rewards of returning students to in-class instruction, on Tuesday night the New Hanover County Board of Education voted six to one to move to the district’s Plan B option, a hybrid of online and classroom learning.

Plan B will involve one week of in-class instruction followed by two weeks of remote learning; siblings will be allowed to stay in the same rotation group. Parents will have the option to keep their students fully remote or, for students with additional needs, to have additional or full-time in-person instruction.

“The district recognizes there are some students with global delays who, by the nature of their disabling condition, have not demonstrated the capacity to gain meaning from remote learning models. For these students, expanded in-person services may be offered. English learners (newcomers) in their first 2 years of instruction will attend daily,” according to the district.

New Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust previously told WHQR he would not make a recommendation without speaking to medical professionals, but data from the county health department was not shared with the board members during the meeting; board member Judy Justice, who was the only vote against Plan B, citing this as her major concern.

Over the summer, the district initially supported Plan B but shortly afterward pivoted to the all-remote Plan C based on then-Interim Superintendent Dr. Del Burns’ recommendation. The decision was influenced by health department data as well as a staff survey showing that roughly half of employees did not want to return to in-class instruction, and hundreds were willing to quit or retire to avoid doing so.

Increasingly, the discussion has pivoted to the stress — on parents and teachers alike — of maintaining online-only instruction. Board member Nelson Beaulieu acknowledged it was a hard decision to move to Plan B, but said the current system was pushing staff to their breaking point. Board member Bill Rivenbark provided anecdotal evidence of parents’ frustration — saying parents were ‘going crazy.’ The Board has also considered the difficulty of online-only education for those with limited resources, including reports that the current plan is widening the achievement gap in the schools.

At the same time, concerns about in-class instruction remain heightened, and many parents have been vocal about their concerns that the district will be unable to enforce its mask mandate.

Certainly, monitoring and containing Covid-19 cases will be a challenge for the district. Students will be screened for temperature and symptoms before entering the schools and masks will be required for both students and staff. Assistant Superintendent Julie Varnam noted that the state’s Department of Public Instruction empowers the district to discipline both students and staff. Some students would be exempt but would be kept separate from their peers, and teachers and staff around those students would have additional protective gear.

Board member David Wortman ultimately supported the move to the three-week Plan B cycle, but first proposed an alternate structure of two days on, three days off. No one else voted in favor of Wortman’s motion.

Plan B will take effect at the beginning of the second marking period, which begins on October 6 for traditional schools, Pre-K, and Isaac Bear Early College High School. Wilmington Early College High School and SEA-tech will start the following day on October 7. Year-round schools will start Plan B on October 12.

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