- Pink Hill Elementary School
School to reopen with virtual instruction for nine weeks
The Lenoir County Board of Education decided Monday night that all students will begin the 2020-2021 school year as remote learners and, after the first nine weeks, the district’s youngest students could transition to in-person instruction provided certain public health metrics are met.
The plan, approved on a 4-to-3 vote, left open the structure for in-person learning for students in grades pre-kindergarten through second if they return to classrooms after the first grading period in late October and did not specify when students in grades three through 12 might return for face-to-face instruction.
However, it set specific standards related to the containment of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Lenoir County before any LCPS students could be physically present in schools: a two-week decline in cases and a positive testing rate of 5 percent or less for 14 days prior to the first day of in-person instruction.
School board member W.D. Anderson made the motion that was supported by members Elijah Woods, Bruce Hill and Merwyn Smith. Board chair Keith King and members Richard Bogan and Billy Davis voted no. The board meeting was held virtually and was streamed on You Tube for public viewing.
The board split not over the idea of reopening with virtual classes but over the length of time students would potentially be kept out of the classroom.
LCPS administrators had recommended a different version of the hybrid plan known as Plan B, which combines in-person instruction with remote learning. That plan would have opened school with four weeks of remote instruction followed by the return to classrooms for all grade levels on a staggered schedule – two days a week in the classroom and three days of remote learning – to cut the number of students in school at one time by about half.
Like the recommended plan, the hybrid model approved by the board would make in-person instruction available to certain groups of students in the Exceptional Children’s program after the initial period of fully remote learning.
Under any plan, students can continue with fully remote learning if their parents prefer that option.
Superintendent Brent Williams told school board members that by opening with at least four weeks of fully remote learning, the recommended plan gave them an opportunity to assess the plan’s effectiveness and public health concerns in stages.
“The ultimate upside of it is flexibility,” he said. “You have two board meetings from now until we would begin (in-person instruction) – the August board meeting and the September board meeting, two subsequent board meetings to look at the situation, to communicate with us and with public health to assess the evolving situation. Whatever decisions we make, whatever decision you make, whatever recommendations we make to you, we want you to know our foremost concern is the safety and well-being of the students and staff members.”
Lenoir County Health Director Pam Brown, who joined the meeting at Williams’ invitation, characterized the spread of the virus in Lenoir County as “slow and steady” and “not huge, huge spikes,” with her department recording five to 10 new cases a day in July. The positivity rate for people tested is averaging about 5.5 percent, she said. Reported cases totaled 499 as of Tuesday for an infection rate per 10,000 population of 89.2, higher than most counties in the state.
“I can’t say we are not trending upward,” Brown said.
As part of his plan to suppress the virus, Gov. Roy Cooper prohibited public schools from reopening with full in-person instruction and mandated they use some version of the hybrid model or, if deemed necessary, to be more restrictive and reopen with remote learning only.
An online survey of parents by LCPS conducted earlier this month found a slight larger number of respondents said they felt “most comfortable” with full-time remote learning for their students. In a separate survey of LCPS teachers and other employees, respondents gave a slight edge to the hybrid plan over the fully remote plan.
The school year begins for nearly all LCPS students on Aug. 17. Lenoir County Early College High School begins classes Aug. 10 but will follow the school board’s plan for virtual instruction.