Wake County Schools

Wake schools to use three-week rotation to get students back in class amid pandemic

Posted July 2, 2020 11:55 a.m. EDT
Updated July 4, 2020 11:28 a.m. EDT

— After hearing details of three plans on Thursday to restart schools during the coronavirus pandemic, the Wake County Board of Education voted unanimously for a "Plan B" scenario in which students would be divided into three groups that would each spend one week in class at school and two weeks at home with online instruction.

Superintendent Cathy Moore said Plan B is the most complex of the three to prepare for and administer, and officials recommended going with it – for now – to give parents as much time to prepare as possible.

"The Plan B that we're proposing today is a starting point," Moore said. "It is one that we believe we can execute based on the data and the information we have."

The district could easily pivot to "Plan A," where all students would return full time to school, or "Plan C," where all instruction is done online, she said, based on guidance from state officials.

Gov. Roy Cooper was expected to provide that guidance on Wednesday, but he said officials might take until mid-July to finalize it. Districts can have plans that are stricter than the baseline proposal state officials set, but they cannot be less restrictive.

Other aspects of the of the district's Plan B 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.

"Remote instruction, in many ways, will not be similar to what students and families experienced in the spring," said Brian Pittman, senior director of high school programs for the district.

When the state closed schools in mid-March to limit the spread of coronavirus, Wake County and other school districts scrambled to set up a system of remote instruction for the remainder of the school year. Pittman said online instruction in the coming school year would be more consistent and aligned with curriculum goals, attendance would be taken and grading will be handled as if students were in school buildings.

School board members expressed serious reservations with Plan B, however, and they peppered district staff for more than four hours with questions on issues ranging from childcare options for when students are in the two-week rotation outside of school to the added cost of the changes to the extra burden on teachers handling students in class and remotely to the prospect of students cheating on work done while at home.

"I'm not completely satisfied that this is the best plan to move forward," board member Bill Fletcher said. "I do believe it meets a lot of the challenges that we face as a district and as a community to deal with the health and safety of our students and staff in reassembling our schools."

"I have some very deep concerns," board member Jim Martin 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."

Still, board members agreed a plan is better than no plan, with the start of school a little more than six weeks off.

"We would all prefer it to be in the building 100 percent, with everyone assured to be safe and healthy. That does not appear to be a near-term opportunity," Fletcher said.

"Hopefully, we will be able to find our way forward in a difficult time," board member Monika Johnson-Hostler said.

"Things are continuing to evolve," board member Chris Heagarty said. "For many of our parents and many of our families, they just need to know something that they can plan around."

"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.

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