‘Honoring teacher needs and safety:' Woods Charter School to begin phased-in Plan B starting March 15

BY HANNAH MCCLELLAN, News + Record Staff
Posted 2/19/21

CHAPEL HILL — The Woods Charter School Board unanimously approved the school administration team’s staggered plan for offering in-person learning under Plan B on Thursday, with the first …

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‘Honoring teacher needs and safety:' Woods Charter School to begin phased-in Plan B starting March 15

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CHAPEL HILL — The Woods Charter School Board unanimously approved the school administration team’s staggered plan for offering in-person learning under Plan B on Thursday, with the first group of students set to return March 15.

Under that plan, K-2 will return March 15, 3rd-4th grades will return March 22, 5th-6th grades will return April 5 and 7th-12th grades will return April 12.

Families can opt to stay in the fully remote Plan C option, the school said.

During the meeting, Principal Cotton Bryan read his case for reopening, beginning by acknowledging division among the school community in how best to move forward. 

“In simplified terms, we are faced with weighing the merits and drawbacks of one highly compromised form of instruction — remote instruction,” he read on Thursday, “with the merits and drawbacks of another highly compromised form of instruction — Plan B hybrid instruction.”

In the document laying out the case for reopening, he noted the primary benefits of offering in-person instruction: “a depth and richness” to in-person learning over remote, a deeper level of engagement for some students and the improvement of student social-emotional well-being. He also noted some of the drawbacks, including anxiety over safety, the difficulty for teachers and the time and resources required to safely transition.

Thursday’s decision followed the board’s specially called Feb. 9 meeting to discuss reopening plans. At that meeting, the board ultimately decided not to vote on a plan, but to wait until its regular meeting. The special meeting was called after Gov. Roy Cooper strongly urged in-person instruction for K-12 students.

The board’s reopening decision also followed the General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill 37 this week, which requires school systems to offer Plan A to special needs students and Plan A or Plan B to all other students. Both plans require universal mask-wearing, but only Plan B requires 6-feet of distancing. On Thursday, Gov. Cooper said he wanted to discuss the bill further before acting on it — namely by including state-recommended social distancing requirements at middle and high schools and allowing local districts to respond to emergencies to return to Plan C if needed. The governor has 10 days to sign or veto the bill; it will become law without his signature if he does nothing by then.

At the WCS board meeting, Bryan said he did not support the reopening bill because it doesn’t require social distancing and would require a quick 15-day turnaround for getting students in the classroom.

“Of course we could do it, but I don’t think it’d be the best for our kids,” he said. “We can do it, it would just be prioritizing something other than what we’re prioritizing, which is a smoother transition that seems calm and purposeful for our kids.”

Senate Bill 37 applies to all public schools, but exempts charter schools. Legislators have justified that exemption by saying parents can always opt to move to a non-charter public school if they’re unhappy with the lack of in-person instruction offered.

“For those who already feel bad about charter schools, this is going to further entrench that feeling,” Bryan said, “because it makes charter schools feel like they’re a special-privilege group that doesn’t have to do what the rest of us do.”

Ultimately, Bryan recommended accepting the administration’s re-entry plan as presented, even though the given timeline would not meet the bill’s 15-day turnaround time if it goes into law.

“Yes, it feels uncomfortable, but it respects kids and teachers transitioning in a calm, purposeful way,” he said.

Teachers and faculty

Before voting, the board discussed survey results that indicated the majority of teachers at every grade-range level preferred remaining in Plan C. Rachel Lawrence, faculty representative on the board, said the school team was working with all staff to help them make a decision for themselves, rather than being forced into one.

“It is really difficult to see that disparity,” she said of the reflected preference of WCS teachers and the administration's recommendation. “I think the admin team has really done a good job of honoring teacher needs and safety in crafting a reopening plan.”

“I have been very leery of forcing teachers to return to school in the midst of this, and I think it’s safe to say that that’s not the situation that we’re looking at,” Lawrence added. “Some teachers might be returning despite reservations, but I feel like the admin team has really done it in an empowering way for teachers, and that makes me feel good. And it makes me feel a lot more comfortable about the idea of returning to school.”

WCS is allowing teachers to opt to continue working remotely, without requiring a medical exemption as is the case in most public districts. Instead, they’re hiring “classroom facilitators,” who will help connect virtual learning technology and sit in the classroom with students who are in-person while their teacher teaches remotely. Bryan said four elementary teachers, two middle school, four high school and two E.C. teachers were not able to return under Plan A or B. In his report, he projected a $53,820 cost for classroom facilitators.

“I believe in our faculty utterly, and am really twisted about what we should do in the short run,” Bryan said during the meeting. “I’m really totally clear about where we need to be in the long run, and on the other side of this I want our faculty intact — the team we have is the team I want going forward.”

During the meeting, Bryan said next steps to prepare for March 15 return to in-person instruction include ordering desks, webcams and other items to assist Plan B, planning info sessions regarding Plan B details, publishing protocol video tutorials and recruiting classroom facilitators and parent volunteers.

You can learn more about WCS' reopening plan at its reopening FAQ page.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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