Saturday, February 4, 2023

Brunswick elementary schools to open at full capacity in two weeks

A Virginia Williamson Elementary School staffer prepares to conduct a temperature check before school begins. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy BCS)
A Virginia Williamson Elementary School staffer prepares to conduct a temperature check before school begins. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy BCS)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — The Brunswick County Board of Education voted to bring elementary-aged students back into the classroom on a full-time basis at its emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Typically split on the topic, Tuesday’s vote was the first time in months the board has reached a unanimous decision related to reopening.

The board called for the emergency meeting in light of N.C. Governor Roy Cooper’s surprise announcement Thursday, which gave local districts the leeway to choose “Plan A” for K-5 schools, an option previously not available.

Brunswick County Schools opened Monday for the first time this academic year in-person to two cohorts of students, with the A group attending Mondays and Tuesdays and the B group attending Thursdays and Fridays.

Superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates originally recommended the board wait nine weeks to reopen in-person; instead, a split board opted to wait 4.5 weeks.

At the Tuesday meeting, Oates recommended all BCS K-5 schools reopen at full capacity. “We should be O.K. in bringing these students back,” he told the board.

One element of the state’s guidance Oates found confusing was the recommendation that buses continue to be socially distanced while classroom social distancing could be relaxed at full capacity. The board opted to operate K-5 buses at full capacity if necessary.

Asked whether there was a major difference in safety between young children being in close proximity in a classroom versus a bus, Brunswick Health and Human Services Director David Stanley said if there is one, it’s likely minimal.

“Generally speaking, when you’ve got folks in that close proximity, I personally don’t see a lot of difference between sitting on a bus that close versus a classroom,” he told the board. “But that’s my thought without digging into the guidance and talking with some of the state experts to get you an answer.”

Stanley added he would follow up with state health officials for a more definitive answer.

The district is expecting to welcome back many students that recently transferred to other schools. After the governor’s announcement, Oates said he heard from multiple principals who were contacted by parents that had enrolled their students in private and charter schools, asking to be reinstated back at BCS.

According to the district, elementary school students currently in the ‘A/B alternating’ plan will transition to full in-class instruction on Oct 5. Elementary students who are currently fully remote will be able to opt-in for full-time in-class learning, with a start date of Oct. 20; the district said a request form to transfer from remote to in-class will be available soon.

The district noted there “is no guarantee a student will have their same teacher if switching from Full Semester 100% Remote to 5 days face to face.”

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