Though the final logistics aren’t complete, the Wayne County Board of Education approved Plan “B” for the 2020-21 academic year during a lengthy meeting Monday.
The decision comes after Governor Roy Cooper announced six days ago that North Carolina schools will reopen Aug. 17 with key safety precautions in place to protect students, teachers and families.
The half-occupancy rule is no longer in effect.
However, social distancing and face masks are required for students, faculty and staff.
“Central Services needed to know the desire of the Board,” said Jennifer Strickland, vice chair of the Board. “Now, hopefully the parents and staff will fill out the Wayne County Public Schools surveys and even sign up for the virtual academy if they need to.
“At that point, we will know if we must delay implementation of B. If we find out we need to change direction, we will. I just could not see leaving CS in limbo of our intent.”
The Board passed Strickland’s motion, 5-2.
The hybrid face-to-face/virtual learning strategy calls for students split up into two groups in grades K-8. Group “A” attends class on campus Monday and Tuesday, while Group “B” attends Thursday and Friday.
In grades 9-12, students will be divided into three groups and split up by their last name. Instruction will be a three-week cycle - four days of face-to-face learning with two weeks on remote.
During the first week of school, each group is scheduled to attend one day and have two days remote. This allows for distribution of tech equipment and materials, training and expectations from teachers to their students.
All students will have remote learning each Wednesday. Sanitization crews will use that day to clean the school buildings.
“I think we had to have a starting point,” said Board member Ven Faulk. “I don’t think Plan C is a starting point. I think Plan C is an ending point. At least with Plan B, we’ve put it out there, whether you like it or whether you don’t, now you can start planning how you’re going to react to it.
“This can change tomorrow, change the next day, change the next month. We need to prepare for what we hope is the best.”
According to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Professional Development Dr. Yvette Smith Mason, there are 2,763 public school staff members - including 1,300-plus teachers - in Wayne County.
WCPS sent out a survey and received 1,981 responses regarding staff’s intention to return to school. Just over 50 percent voted against a virtual learning environment, while 49.1 percent favored the option.
Parents have until July 30 to register their child for the Voluntary Virtual Learning Program (VVPL) so WCPS can plan for students who will have actual face-to-face instruction on campus. Students who request the virtual academy must commit to at least one full semester.
Tamara Berman-Ishee, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said average daily membership (ADM) numbers would not be affected. The virtual academy is district wide, but students will have a “base” school.
The Board asked for additional information, such as the number of virtual academy registrations and the number of teachers who preferred to instruct remotely. That data was not available.
“There are still a lot of details to be worked out, mass rules we have to get clarification on,” Berman-Ishee said. “The governor said to make the plan as versatile as possible. We need the community’s help, no matter what plan we are doing.
“We’re going to get this wrong. My motto lately has been ‘you can’t do right when there is no right.’”
Strickland and Faulk both brought up concerns for the teachers, who may not feel comfortable teaching in a school setting. They also posed the question of a teacher contracting COVID-19 and Mason said those who get sick will receive 80 hours of paid leave.
Board member Len Henderson addressed nutrition.
Tim Harrell, assistant superintendent of support services, said the current curbside plan of feeding students runs out Aug. 31. He added that the district is working on ensuring meals are available to students on campus and curbside pickup for remote students.