At a specially called meeting Wednesday, the Chatham County Board of Education voted 4-1 for the county’s schools to continue classes under the remote learning “Plan C” option …
Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to the News + Record – you can do so by clicking here.
This story was updated Sept. 28, prior to the Board of Education's unanimous decision on Sept. 29 to approve in-person instruction under Plan B for Extended Content Standard E.C. students, PreK students and K-2 students, as well as the resumption of extracurricular activities.
At a specially called meeting last Wednesday, the Chatham County Board of Education voted 4-1 for the county’s schools to continue classes under the remote learning “Plan C” option through the end of the semester, which ends Jan. 15, 2021.
The board was set to hold another special meeting Tuesday, Sept. 29 — after press time for this edition of the News + Record — to discuss the possibility of making an exception for subset groups, such as Pre-K and self-contained Exceptional Children students.
Wednesday’s meeting was held in the multipurpose room of Horton Middle School, with more than 450 people watching the livestream on the district’s website. The board heard brief presentations regarding COVID-19 data in Chatham and safe school transportation plans, asked CCS administration questions about what a hybrid Plan B would look like and discussed various factors for students, parents and teachers.
“Of course, this is definitely a difficult process and decision to make,” board chairperson Gary Leonard said to start the meeting. “We appreciate all of those who’ve been working with us.”
Anne Lowry, Chatham County’s environmental health director, took questions from the board on behalf of the Chatham County Public Health Department. Board member Jane Allen Wilson inquired about 6-foot socially distanced guidelines, referencing guidance posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 18 saying that aerosol transmission was one of the most common ways for COVID-19 to spread — meaning that virus particles could spread further than 6 feet. The CDC removed that guidance from their website just three days later.
“We’re sticking with 6 feet for right now, because it’s the longest term that we’ve had as far as guidance,” Lowry said.
Early on, board member Del Turner raised doubts about the safety of Plan B, stating a little more than 20 minutes into the meeting that she wasn’t “going to entertain” Plan B at this point.
“It’s just not worth it for me,” she said, adding that opening as the flu season approaches seemed especially dangerous. “I’m only one person on a five-person board, but I’m saying for me, I’d rather hold on and look and see what’s gonna happen with everything open.”
Board member David Hamm then raised questions on how students would be getting to school; CCS Chief Operations Director Chris Blice said school bus transportation was “something we are still discussing what our process would be.” However, Blice did say the district was leaning toward relying on student- and parent-reported temperatures/symptoms rather than taking the temperature of every student before they got on the bus, in order to prevent accidents, increased traffic and students stranded on the side of the road.
He said he felt, based on evidence from case studies in other counties, that parents would comply with rules in place to ensure their children can remain back in school. Currently, the rule for bus seating is one student per seat, unless students are from the same household.
“We’ll do whatever we need to do to get the kids safely to school,” Blice said, adding that they expected fairly minimal ridership.
Board member Melissa Hlavac brought up the issue of consistency for students and parents. As a parent of students doing remote learning, she admitted there are big disadvantages — including the socialization for kids — that comes with not being in school. Still, she stressed the safety of students and teachers, as well as providing a consistent plan.
“From a consistency standpoint, there are many families who have also sort of gotten the knack on how they’re conducting education in partnership with schools,” Hlavac said. “I think about what that change would look like at this point in the year.”
The board then discussed the willingness of CCS faculty and staff to return to in-person learning — referencing the survey presented by the district at last week’s special BOE meeting, which was held to hear COVID-19 updates. Members expressed specific concerns regarding answers to the question, “Do you feel comfortable beginning in-person instruction with students?” Nearly 30% of respondents indicated “yes,” 41% said “no” and 30% said they were unsure.
“I think those numbers are really glaring,” Hamm said. He added that three-fourths of custodians and bus drivers/monitors did not feel comfortable with returning in-person, adding the “no” and “I am unsure” answers together in those groups.
Following a five-minute break, Hamm then made a motion to continue under Plan C through the rest of the semester. Leonard urged the board to also think of the students struggling with remote learning, along with the faculty and staff members had previously discussed.
“I do value our staff tremendously,” Leonard said. “But we left out students that are at home with not a whole lot of internet access — a lot of frustrations from some. We have heard from others that are doing well with this, so just want to make sure that we think about how we’re doing that.”
CCS Superintendent Derrick Jordan then asked if such a motion would apply to all students, or if exceptions could be made for certain students who face additional challenges under remote learning — such as self-contained Exceptional Children students. After some additional discussion, Hamm rescinded his first motion and then made a second motion: extend Plan C through the semester with the exception of self-contained EC students. The district said CCS has 134 “separate setting students” to which this would apply.
In the end, Hamm rescinded his second motion and made a third motion — this one to extend remote learning through the semester, which ends on Jan. 15. Before calling the vote for the final motion, the board planned to discuss any exceptions to Plan C at a special meeting next Tuesday. Superintendent Jordan said a survey would be sent out to E.C. staff in order to collect information relevant to that decision. If passed, that exception would apply after the original nine weeks of remote learning, which ends Oct. 16.
The motion passed 4-1, with Leonard as the only dissenting vote.
After that vote, Leonard made a motion to allow students to participate in extracurriculars — namely sports — during the continued Plan C. The motion was quickly tabled, with plans to discuss and vote on a similar motion at Tuesday’s special meeting.
“I just want to tell the public if you weigh in with an email, I will try to reply but I’m not sure I’ll get back to all of them,” Leonard said after tabling his motion. “I’m not sure I’ll get back to all the emails, so just wanted to let you know in-between — we appreciate the input; we try to read them all.”
Shortly following the decision, many parents commented on the News + Record’s meeting update in opposition of the decision to remain in Plan C. Several commenters called on the board to reconsider their decision, others posted for residents to “vote them out” in this year’s election.
“Our BOE is looking out for the safety of students and teachers,” one poster, Kim Serden Caraganis, wrote. “They understand the hardships of this decision on parents and kids, but safety is priority.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com.
Access all content on our website, including our e-edition, at a discounted rate while also being environmentally friendly.
Get your 1-year digital subscriptions for only $39.
That's just 10¢ per day for the great coverage of your local news!