BRUNSWICK COUNTY – Brunswick County middle- and high-school students will return from spring break to daily in-person instruction for the first time since Gov. Roy Cooper closed schools over a year ago.
On Monday, April 12, grades 6-12 will resume five days a week of face-to-face classes. Students can still choose to learn solely from home, but will no longer receive the option of both virtual and in-person learning.
Schools are reaching out to families to verify which plan students intend on participating in for the remainder of the year.
Starting next week, students who are switching from all-remote to full-time face-to-face instruction will come to school in person for two days. Superintendent Jerry Oates said this “immersion period” will help sixth- and ninth-graders, who have never set foot in their middle and high schools, acclimate to the new buildings and staff. It also allows more time for the transportation department to plan bus routes.
The Brunswick County Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon on the transition plan, which the superintendent recommended in response to Senate Bill 220.
Signed into law less than two weeks ago, The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021 allowed districts to return middle and high schoolers to school without social-distancing requirements, opening up the possibility for daily in-person instruction in secondary buildings.
With just a few months left on the traditional school year calendar, the administration still sees the move to Plan A as beneficial.
“Every minute in the classroom is worth it,” board vice chair Steven Barger said.
Molly White, assistant superintendent of middle-school education, said staff notices the impactful difference between face-to-face and virtual learning.
“We are not getting the output from our kids at home that we will get in front of them,” White said. “This has afforded us the opportunity to get a large amount of time back.”
When Plan A starts, students who choose to partake in daily in-person instruction will be marked absent if they are not physically in the building. Currently, if a student is not in school, they may still log onto the remote classroom to receive credit.
“That will no longer be the case,” Oates said. “I tell my staff we’ll be playing by 2019 rules.”
Oates stressed remote students will mainly learn asynchronously. The superintendent said he does not expect educators to focus on remote learners while also teaching an in-person class.
“The teacher can have their computer up, and the students at home can definitely watch the lesson and keep up that way,” Oates said. “But what I am going to make sure that principals understand is that the teachers are teaching the kids that are in front of them.”
Brunswick County Schools has kept its elementary students in full-time learning since October and experienced numerous Covid-19 outbreaks. However, this upper-grade level transition to Plan A comes at a time when virus cases are declining and more people, including teachers, statewide can get a Covid-19 vaccine.
In a March 15 survey, at least 74% of BCS employees shared they received their first shot. Of the 918 respondents, 23% said they had not taken any dose, while the remainder chose not to answer.
Before vaccines opened to school employees, 564 staff members responded to a Feb. 4 survey about whether they felt comfortable returning to school. Around 40% of staff members stated they would feel safe in middle or high schools with five days of face-to-face instruction if 6-feet distancing was made possible. Only 18% said they would feel safe if 6-feet distancing was not possible.
On the Feb. 4 survey, 42% answered they would not feel secure without 6-feet distancing even if the Covid-19 vaccine was available to them at the time.
To express gratitude for their extra work during the pandemic, BCS plans to give certified and classified employees $1,000 bonuses in May and an additional $500 teacher supplements in April to raise supplements this year to $1,000. The district will celebrate staff in the first week of May, now designated as BCS “Employee Appreciation Week.”
“All of our employees have done, as we’ve all said, more than is expected of them,” Oates said.
Oates clarified the bonuses are a sign of appreciation during the pandemic. He said the gesture does not mean benefits will reoccur next year.
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