Last Thursday, more than 1,800 students were able to return to Chatham County Schools under Plan B, following the Board of Education’s Nov. 9 vote for students in 3rd-5th grade to return Nov. 19, …
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Last Thursday, more than 1,800 students were able to return to Chatham County Schools under Plan B, following the Board of Education’s Nov. 9 vote for students in 3rd-5th grade to return Nov. 19, with students in 6th-8th set to return Dec. 7.
These students joined the nearly 2,000 PreK, K-2 and Extended Content Standard E.C. students who returned Oct. 19. For now, high schoolers will remain in Plan C through Jan. 15 — in accordance with the board’s Sept. 23 decision to extend Plan C past the original nine-week time frame to the end of the semester in January.
As the board predicted throughout its discussions over the last few months, Chatham parents feel very differently about Plan B.
“Last year it was just shambles,” said Chris Houston, a CCS parent, of remote learning. “We were certainly concerned at the beginning of the term, but then everything started and the teacher was very organized and we had multiple Zoom calls every day. She had a good structure of what the children should be doing when they weren’t on Zoom calls … we thought it was going well.”
Houston has two children — a daughter in 1st grade at North Chatham Elementary School and a 3rd-grade son who recently switched schools after not coping well with online school. For Houston’s daughter, virtual learning was going well, particularly compared to the end of last semester when teachers were adjusting to remote learning on the fly. While Houston said his daughter really enjoys the two days a week she is back at school under Plan B, he worries her overall education is suffering because of the three days a week she is virtual.
“All of a sudden, the structure is gone,” he said. “They’re still getting assigned work, but realistically, without Zoom calls, without the additional things the teacher was doing, my daughter can get the work done, if she’s focused, in an hour probably. You’ve got to think, surely, if they were in school, they would be doing a lot more work — so, that’s quite frustrating.”
On social media, many parents in Chatham County have raised concerns with the hybrid schedule being more difficult for working parents. Acknowledging that reality, Houston said his family was lucky that he and his wife are able to work from home in order to be with his daughter when she’s not at school and to help her with her schoolwork.
“So we are not as impacted as I’m sure a lot of other people are by this,” he said.
Chatham resident and parent Avis Bell, who works at Horton Middle School, said her family has had to work together to make the time away from school work. Her son is in 1st grade at Perry Harrison Elementary School and her middle daughter is a junior at Northwood High School. Her oldest daughter, who works part time and takes classes at Central Carolina Community College, has been helping her brother with school while their parents are at work.
Though it hasn’t been easy, Bell thinks her son is more independent now because of having to log into Zoom. He’s also more excited about school, she said, now that he’s back in the classroom. And even though his schedule is a little less consistent under Plan B, she thinks it’s worth it for him to be back in a physical classroom, even for just part of the week.
“He’s really missed his school,” Bell said. “Whenever they started PreK through 2nd (grade) to go back these two days, I thought this would really be good for the family as a whole because it would give her a break and he would get out of the house, and he’d be around his peers.”
Bell started her job at Horton Middle School in August, so she’s excited to finally get a sense of what her job will look like with students actually in the building. For her daughter at Northwood, still learning under Plan C — the completely remote option — has been a challenge.
“It’s sort of like the morale is coming down in general, but she’s getting through it,” Bell said. “I’m really glad (the board) decided to let them have sports because it gets them around their friends and they get some relief from being cooped up in the house all the time. Hopefully, in January, they may do something where they can be in school a little bit, too.”
Last month, Chatham parent Holly Rohaly told the News + Record she was really worried for her daughter’s educational experience under Plan C, stating that her 8-year-old who typically loved learning now dreaded school. At the time, her daughter, who is in 3rd grade was not yet going to school under Plan B.
“I feel like there’s so much uncertainty, there’s no good answer,” Rohaly said at the time. “We’re in a no-win situation trying to pick the best of the worst, as far as a solution. But we were so disappointed with the decision of pushing the kids out until January. I mean … that was devastating for us.”
Other parents felt blindsided by the board’s decision to send additional students back to school. Some expressed concern for teachers and staff, who don’t have the same flexibility as students and families do when it comes to choosing whether or not to come back to school.
Since the first day of school on Aug. 17, there have been 21 positive cases of COVID-19 among CCS staff and seven among students — with five new staff cases last week and one new student case. It’s unclear how many cases have occurred since the district partially reopened Oct. 19 and how many of the cases, if any, represent community spread in a school, rather than just positive cases among school community members.
“Remote school is imperfect,” Corbie Hill, a Chatham parent, wrote in a letter to the editor to the News + Record last month. “We all know that. What’s getting lost in the drive to reopen, however, is infection risk to staff, students, and the entire community — not to mention the logistical headaches of hybrid remote/in-person learning. The grass is not greener.”
Still, even for parents like Houston, who want to err on the side of caution and also have concerns about a hybrid schedule, it’s clear that being physically at school is important for children.
“She definitely loves being back at school,” he said of his daughter. “I mean, the interaction with her peers and being able to do that, and I think having just the concentration of being with a teacher who’s assigning them things or keeping them mentally stimulated — children like to learn at the end of the day.”
He does wonder why his daughter can’t go to school the full week when he says her in-person class only has a handful of people in it. If the other in-person group of students is the same size, Houston said that leads him to believe half the class is remaining virtual or has left the school. “The kind of question,” then, he said, is “Why can those 10 children not all go four days a week?”
Both Houston and Bell emphasized that the board is in a difficult position with no perfect answer. For Bell, trying to remain positive is the only way she knows to help her family get through all the challenges of this year, particularly remote learning.
“If we don’t encourage them, if we as parents just complain about it the whole time, they’re going to be complaining about it,” she said. “So I bring more of a positive outlook — like I know this is how it is, but we can get through it.”
Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.