WCPS postpones move to Plan A

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COVID-19 metrics are moving in the wrong direction in Wayne County.

Active cases and hospitalizations outpacing recoveries has created concern among Wayne County Public Schools officials.

The Wayne County Board of Education voted 4-3 to postpone its move to Plan A from Jan. 25 to March 15.

Schools will remain in Plan B, where students are divided into cohorts that alternate between in-person and remote-only learning, reducing class sizes to promote social distancing and regularly closing schools for cleaning.

Some county educators felt is was the right direction for students, staff and community safety.

“The majority of the school board listened to sound science and reasoning,” said Tiffany Kilgore, president of the Wayne County Association of Educators. “As much as we would love for this pandemic to be over, we cannot ignore the impact it has on our communities, our students and our staff. Nor, the fact that [it] is simply [not] over.”

According to the Wayne County Health Department, there were more than 800 active cases in the county on Sunday. More than 3,000 lab-confirmed positive cases were reported in southern Wayne County.

Dr. David Lewis, interim WCPS superintendent, recommended postponement of Plan A transition. He feared community spread of the disease and stressed schools must continue virus protocol and follow social distancing standards.

“We have had very few, if any, cases reported to us that we believe may have been spread in the school,” Lewis said. “We’ve been able to do this because social distancing is possible under Plan B. My feeling is that if we go to Plan A in K-5 and we cannot guarantee social distancing, we will be in fact contributing to a greater problem in the community.”

Board member Patricia Burden motioned to postpone Plan A transition and it was seconded by at-large Board representative Tommy Sanders. Board member Len Henderson and Chair Don West also voted in favor.

Vice Chair Joe Democko and board members Jennifer Strickland and Wade Leatham vetoed the motion.

“Plan B is the best position for us today,” Sanders said. “We were told infections should spike by the end of January or early February. The vaccine is here and we expect things to get better very soon. As soon as the news gets better, I can assure you that an effort to get the students back in the classroom will move very fast.”

Despite the move, WCPS still faces issues:

  • School nurses are provided through a contract with the hospital. The nurses are still required to cover one 12-hour shift a week at the hospital and that could increase due to the number of admissions.
  • A lack of substitute teachers creates staffing concerns.
  • Staff and teachers required to either quarantine or who contract the virus may have to use to sick time, comp time or leave without pay.
  • CARES Act funding expired on Dec. 31. School nutrition and transportation staff are affected by decreased utilization and the expiration of CARES funding.

“Our schools are being stretched thin,” Kilgore said. “The report that WCAE sent to the board clearly shows that if we want to help curve the impact in the communities, then we must close schools for a three- to five-week period.

“Again, sound science and logic.”

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