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Sunday, May 26, 2024

As transmission reaches schools, Brunswick reverts to remote-only after winter break

Brunswick County Schools will return after winter break to remote-only instruction to prevent the spread of Covid-19. (Port City Daily photo/File)
Brunswick County Schools will return after winter break to remote-only instruction to prevent the spread of Covid-19. (Port City Daily photo/File)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to revert back to Plan C, requiring all grade levels to participate through remote-learning after Christmas break.

The move to Plan C would apply through Jan. 19.

Related: New Hanover County Schools revisit Plan A move, settle on postponing reopening

This means students will attend classes virtually between Jan. 6 through Jan. 19; before the board’s decision, these dates would have been attended in-person.

The school board will consider returning schools back to in-person instruction after reviewing Covid-19 infection numbers after returning from Christmas break.

‘Transmissions and leakages’

Brunswick County health director David Stanley informed the board during an operations committee meeting Tuesday afternoon the county had identified “transmissions and leakages” within the schools — an identification it had not yet made until the last week or two.

“We are seeing some transmissions that are occurring inside the schools where you’ve got a real tight setting — where they can’t social distance,” Stanley told the board.

The increase in cases both locally and statewide can be attributed to the Thanksgiving break, according to Stanley. Last week, Brunswick County had an 11% positivity rate. As of Tuesday, the county’s positivity rate is 9.3%.

About 10% of the county’s cases are occurring in those aged 17 and under.

When the school year began, Stanley said the county’s health department was placing about one call a week as part of its contact tracing efforts in the school system. “Now we have 1.5 [full-time employees] who are devoted to nothing but schools at the health department,” he said.

Stanley noted that while transmissions were more common outside of school — at home or in the workplace — they were still happening in the schools.

Though she voted in favor of reverting back to Plan C, new board member Robin Moffitt said it was a difficult decision because most of the spread is occurring outside of the school system.

“I think it puts me in a pickle all the way around. It’s frustrating because I don’t think the spread is happening within the school,” Moffitt said. “I don’t want our kids to be penalized because they need to be in school.”

Though children transmit the virus less frequently than older individuals, Stanley said his health team has still identified child-to-child spread within schools — both public and private. “Data still shows they don’t transmit as well,” he said of young children. “But it’s still not a foolproof situation.”

Temporary move to Plan C

BCS elementary schools are operating under Plan A, attending class in-person on a full-time basis. Middle and high schools are on an alternating remote and in-person schedule with Plan B under an A/B plan. N.C. Governor Roy Cooper has not yet allowed middle or high schools to open under Plan A.

Citing the need to prepare working parents ahead of time, the board voted to move to Plan C based on information Stanley shared. The decision was not one the board was planning to make Tuesday but chose to do so based on new information shared by Stanley.

“As a parent, I’d like to know this week if we’re going to cancel school after Christmas,” new board member Steven Barger said at the meeting. Barger said in recent tours of schools, he noticed some classrooms had plenty of social distancing, while others were “shoulder to shoulder.”

Superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates said social spacing has been determinate on populations within the schools, with distancing more difficult in schools nearing capacity at the elementary level. As of Tuesday, BCS had 100 employees quarantining, 77 of which are teachers and teachers’ assistants.

Middle school sports paused

Thirty minutes before the board met Tuesday afternoon, BCS announced all third-grade students at Town Creek Elementary would transition to remote-only effective Wednesday, Dec. 15. Winter break begins Dec. 18.

Other than Town Creek third graders, all other K-5 students in the BCS system have been attending school on a full-time, Plan A basis (unless they enrolled in the separate virtual academy).

The board also voted to pause all middle school sports until Jan. 19. High school basketball, football, and lacrosse will also be paused through Jan. 19 while girls’ volleyball will continue.

BCS’s decision comes days after New Hanover County Schools voted to transition its elementary schools from Plan B to Plan A beginning Jan. 19. Last week, the board voted to enact the change on Jan. 11 but voted to delay the full-time opening by a week.

Both Brunswick County and Pender County are currently designated as orange, or “substantial,” under the state’s Covid-19 alert system. Orange is the mid-range risk level of three. New Hanover County is designated as yellow or “significant” — the lowest risk designation.

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