PITTSBORO — At the Chatham County Schools Board of Education’s regular session meeting on Monday, the board heard more updates on COVID-19 and planned for future decisions to bring more students …
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PITTSBORO — At the Chatham County Schools Board of Education’s regular session meeting on Monday, the board heard more updates on COVID-19 and planned for future decisions to bring more students back to in-person learning under Plan B. Ultimately, the board decided to try to make a timeline decision at their next regular meeting on Nov. 9, indicating the earliest more students could move to Plan B would be Nov. 30.
This follows the board’s unanimous Sept. 29 decision to allow the resumption of extracurricular activities and in-person instruction under Plan B starting Oct. 19 for Extended Content Standard E.C. students, PreK students and K-2 students. At that meeting, the BOE also indicated it could vote to bring other student groups back for in-person instruction as well, pivoting from their 4-1 vote only one week before to extend Plan C through the end of the semester, which ends Jan. 15.
The board has faced criticism from parents, teachers and students against and for the return to in-person decision — with some people saying the decision is unsafe, and others saying the board is not moving quickly enough. During the public comments, two parents urged the board to reconsider keeping the majority of students in Plan C.
“We have all detailed the struggles that we are experiencing,” CCS parent Jessica Winger said. “We are dealing with kids failing classes who are normally on the honor roll, kids falling further and further behind each week because they can’t keep up with the continuous online assignments, very little socialization, meltdowns over zoom meetings and schoolwork, just to name a few.”
While she said allowing some student groups to return next week is a “tiny step in the right direction,” she called on the board to allow all students to return.
“Everyone I talked to is struggling with this right now,” she added. “Dragging this decision out is dragging our kids further and further behind. We as parents understand the risk but please honor our decision to want our children to go back to school.”
After the public comments, the board again heard from the ABC Science Collaborative, a project which analyzes COVID-19-related data in partnership with Duke, UNC and surrounding school districts, including CCS. During the group’s presentation, presenters Danny Benjamin and Mike Smith stressed that their sharing their findings was meant to help the school board make informed decisions. They showed research on current progress to make a COVID-19 vaccine, and stressed that if schools wait for vaccine approval to return to in-person instruction, they’re “going to be waiting a really long time.”
The group showed findings of clusters in N.C. public schools which had started under Plan B. At that time, 48 students and staff were identified as having positive cases as a result of clusters in one of 12 schools.
Following the ABC Science Collaborative’s presentation, Interim Health Director Mike Zelek gave a brief update, echoing the group’s emphasis on effective contact tracing and flu vaccinations. The board also heard updates from the School Nutrition Services regarding Plan B, the 2020-21 budget and construction projects in the district, including Seaforth High School.
The board approved the district’s proposed testing plan for the schools, following discussion regarding board member Melissa Hlavac’s concern that the plan currently required students to take the test in person. The district said that they needed state approval to allow for virtual testing or to waive 20% grading requirements for tests, but are able to pivot if the state gives them authority to.
“This doesn’t lock us into anything,” board chairperson Gary Leonard said before the vote passed.
Near the end of the meeting, the board discussed when it would make a timeline for more students to return to in-person instruction under Plan B. CCS Superintendent Derrick Jordan proposed three potential start dates for those students: Nov. 9, Nov. 16 and Nov. 30.
The board ultimately decided to wait to meet on their Nov. 9 regular meeting, following board member David Hamm’s point that they should have “personal data” before making any more decisions. At that meeting, Extended Content Standard E.C. Students, PreK students and K-2 students will have been in hybrid classes for three weeks. Board member Del Turner was not present for this portion of the meeting, as she left a little more than two hours into the meeting due to not feeling well.
Leonard expressed hesitation with waiting that long to make a decision.
“I’ll be honest with you: I really worry about COVID-19, but I also worried about our children and what they’re missing,” he said. “And I do think that we can make this work.”
The board then agreed to discuss the timelines at their next regular meeting, rather than scheduling a special meeting.
“I concur with David, I’d like to see some of the data and hear back from parents about how they’re feeling,” board member Melissa Hlavac said. “This is a culture shift. It takes time to shift cultures — procedures need to be in place, I also think the community needs to feel comfortable … It seems we’re going to be in this until 2022, if I understood correctly, so taking a measured approach makes sense.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at email@example.com.
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