Many questions, few answers as Wake parents, teachers plan for part-time return to the classroom
Posted July 3, 2020 2:54 p.m. EDT
Updated July 3, 2020 10:49 p.m. EDT
Cary, N.C. — In the hours after the Wake County Board of Education voted to bring students back to the classroom one week out of every three, parents and teachers began to parse the plan.
"We need to get this right," said Keith Poston, president of WakeEd Partnership, a business-backed nonprofit group that supports the Wake County school system.
The board voted unanimously Thursday in favor of dividing students into three groups. Each spend one week in class at school and two weeks at home with online instruction. Superintendent Cathy Moore said acknowledged that plan is complex and said the vote came with six weeks before the school year starts for most to give families time to prepare.
Keith Sutton, chairman of the board of education, said the plan will require a cooperation between parents, teachers, students and staff.
"I think it’s doable," he said. "It just takes us all pitching in and working together.”
Among the questions is how students will be equipped for online learning. Not every family has a computer or tablet, and not every home has high-speed internet access.
"Every child needs access to not only a device but the internet, and there’s a lot of effort to make sure every student has that access,” said school board member Dr. Jim Martin. "Exactly how that will be paid for I don’t know. I don’t have answers. We’re hoping we’ll find partners who will help pay for that."
Poston believes lessons learned in the spring will allow remote learning to go more smoothly in the fall.
"What we went through in the spring was not distance learning in the way you want it to be, it was really an emergency situation,” he said.
Kristin Beller, who represents Wake County on the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) board of directors, is worried, especially about the rigor of remote learning.
“We have one experience of learning, and we are trying to take that and shove it into a different-sized box, and things are not the way they were before,” she said.
Beller says the challenge is making learning consistent for all students.
"Very bluntly, there should be no standardized testing for the State of North Carolina next year," she said.
Beller and Martin also worry for teachers.
"I have some very deep concerns," he said. "If I were a teacher being asked to go into this plan, I would still have huge questions about whether I am going to be able to be successful at my job."
Kim Hicks is worried her rising seventh grader will fall behind. She works full-time and worries that if she is not able to be with him, her son won't get the education he needs.
"Hopefully this new online system will be easy to navigate where they can click through and get all the lessons they need,” she said.
Other aspects of the district's plan include health screenings both at home and at school; limiting the number of students on each school bus, where everyone will be required to wear masks; and altering traffic flow in school hallways and classrooms to promote social distancing. Multi-track, year-round schools would all shift to a Track 4 schedule.
The school district also will roll out the WCPSS Virtual Academy for students to go completely online, even if the district resumes in-person instruction. Students who opt for the Virtual Academy would be required to enroll for a minimum of one semester, but they would still be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities at school.
"At the end of the day, it is going to come to principals in buildings and teachers in classrooms and students in classrooms that are going to have to make all this stuff work," Martin said.
Friday night, Kassandra Watson, president of the Wake County PTA Council, released a statement in regards to reopening schools:
"The Wake County PTA Council recognizes and appreciates the many hours of work that WCPSS has put into creating a return to school plan that gives parents a choice and provides details for keeping children safe amid the COVID crisis. As parents ourselves, we empathize with everyone having to make difficult decisions and we acknowledge that for many, there is no choice. However, we strongly believe that WCPSS is acting in the best interest of all students. As an advocacy organization, we remain concerned about equity in education and believe that WCPSS is working diligently to address this issue. We also believe that the health and safety of our teachers should be a top priority, as well. As an organization, we will continue to encourage parents to reach out for help for themselves and their children, as we all try to adapt to this new normal."
Watson also referred to a statement from the National PTA on the subject of reopening.