Orange, Warren schools will stick to online learning when school year begins

Students in Orange County public schools will be learning at home and online for at least the first four weeks of school.

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Nia Harden
Lora Lavigne, WRAL reporters & Maggie Brown, WRAL multiplatform producer
HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — Public school students in Orange and Warren counties will be learning at home and online for at least the first few weeks of school.
Orange County's Board of Education made a unanimous decision Thursday morning to approve at-home learning for at least four weeks from the start of the school year scheduled for Aug. 17. The board plans to meet again next week to determine if that online-only period needs to be extended.

"We really need some metrics," Board Chair Will Atherton said. "What are the requirements to come back to school?"

Atherton said he wants teachers to be confident in their return to school. Right now, that is not the case.

"Our teachers are scared," Atherton said.

The coronavirus is infecting 55% of people in the age bracket that most teachers make up, the board members said.

Board members said they wouldn't be waiting on a coronavirus vaccine to come in the picture, but they wanted to see better trends in coronavirus cases.

Orange County Schools Superintendent Dr. Monique Felder recommended to the Board of Education that students operate in Plan C, or all-remote learning in Thursday morning's emergency meeting.

Some board members suggested to wait even until November to return to in-person instruction.

Board members said that teachers were "frontline workers" for students.

"I just have a difficult time justifying asking our staff to work during a deadly pandemic," one board member, Hillary MacKenzie, said.

While students are learning at home, the school system will be getting ready for Plan B, which mixes classroom and online instruction.

Parent Marion Saxon said she saw the disadvantages of online learning when schools closed in the spring, saying her rising seventh-grader and high school senior regularly interrupted her for help while they tried to learn as she tried to work from home.

“You’re not used to being a full-time mom and full-time worker bee," Saxon said.

She also worries her senior will miss out on key social milestones.

“I’m a proponent for kids really getting that social interaction and having that social development that they really need," she said. “Through their video chats, Tik Toks, all of the stuff they’re already doing, I don’t want that to be my kids socialization.

“I really want my oldest to have a great experience for her senior year. I really don’t know how things are going to pan out.”

Warren County schools will start online, provide Wi-Fi hot spots

Warren County Schools are planning on staying in "Plan C" until October due to rising coronavirus cases and concerns from parents. The district will provide Wi-Fi hotspots to students via buses spread out across the community, a spokesperson from the county said.

The hotspots will stay on until 9 p.m.

Chromebooks will also be given to each student so they can do their classwork.

After October, the district will reassess and see if schools in the area are ready for blended learning, or Plan B.

Durham, Chapel Hill-Carrboro meet tonight, expected to keep students learning at home

Chapel Hill-Carrboro and Durham Public Schools also have meetings planned for Thursday, and those boards are expected to vote to start the schools year remote-only as well.

Parents are split about the plans. Some think the district should play it safe, while others think students should be back in the classrooms.

Additionally, Cooper said he plans to keep the state in "Phase 2" of a three-part plan to reopen businesses and resume social activities during the pandemic for at least three more weeks as the number of infections continue to climb.

"Please know that I too want our kids back in our school buildings," Orange County's Felder said. "I want to hear their laughter and learning fill the hallways; however, now is not the time. The goal of in-person education is the right one, and we will make every effort to get there this fall."


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