NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - At an interim meeting held Tuesday evening, Board of Education members voted to approve the proposal to reopen New Hanover County Schools under Plan C—virtual learning—for the first grading period.
The vote was six to one in favor of Plan C; David Wortman gave the dissenting vote.
“What I’m saying is we don’t have a right to make a decision for the families,” said Wortman. “We have an absolute obligation to give our community and to give our parents and our students a choice. We’ve taken that choice away from them numerous times during the Summer. It’s time to give them a choice.”
Although board members Jeanette Nichols and Bill Rivenbark voted for Plan C, they both added that they would prefer students to return to in-person learning sooner than nine weeks.
Staff listed several challenges to overcome before safely allowing students in classrooms. Limited bus capacity and changing of bus routes, trouble with meal distribution and social distancing to name a few.
School leaders said teachers are still training and trying to figure out the best ways for students to have an equitable education. Interim superintendent Dr. Del Burns simply said, the school system just isn’t prepared for all the challenges that come with in-person instruction during the pandemic.
Educators said they’ve heard from not only parents but teachers also, who have concerns about the workload and their health and safety. Not to mention school nurses are short staffed at this moment in time.
“Again, I have no doubt that this district can open under Plan B. Just not for a while,” said Burns. “More time is needed to develop and refine procedures and processes. Procedures and processes for grouping students, for transporting, for screening. Processes and procedures for students and staff.”
Previously, on July 15, New Hanover County Schools announced plans to begin the school year on a hybrid schedule, known as Plan B.
Following that decision, a survey was issued to staff and families to provide feedback on the board’s decision.
The results of the survey indicated concerns for health and safety of students and staff by following Plan B, a hybrid of in-school and online learning, operating on a schedule of one week in school and three weeks of at-home, virtual learning.
In response to the survey results, the board announced an interim meeting to discuss a possible change to Plan C for the first nine weeks of the upcoming school year.
On the agenda, the recommendation for action by Interim Superintendent Del Burns stated, “Based upon concerns for the health and safety of students and staff, the Interim Superintendent recommends that New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) open and operate under Plan C through the first grading period of the 2020-2021 school year.”
Attendance at the meeting was restricted according to Governor Cooper’s order and public input was not permitted. According to the New Hanover County Schools website, the following guidelines applied to the meeting:
The purpose of the meeting is for the Board to receive an update regarding 2020-2021 school opening plans and to consider recommendations. There will be no Call to the Audience or opportunity for public input. In practice with safe social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC, attendance at all meetings of the NHCS BOE is currently strictly limited to no more than 10 people. The general public will have the option to view remotely via live streaming on Roku, Apple TV, and online at NHCS-TV.
After the initial decision was made to follow the hybrid school option, an additional community input survey was issued to families by individual schools.
This deadline for this survey has been extended and is still open on the NHCS website as of July 28, accompanied by the following statement:
As New Hanover County Schools considers the opening of the 2020-2021 school year, available options are being evaluated and considered. In doing so, NHCS is monitoring and will take into account changes in health trends, state and federal guidance, and input from staff and parents.
Like your family and our community at large, NHCS is adapting to changes brought about by the pandemic since school buildings were closed in March. The district is thoughtfully and deliberately creating new health protocols, new student and family supports, and new instructional strategies.
Virtual learning and digital resources are being enhanced to provide rigorous and meaningful educational experiences that are aligned with North Carolina grade-level standards. Instruction and Technology Divisions are working to provide details of the 2020-2021 Plan B remote learning plan and School-Based Virtual Academy with timelines and resources that will be available as soon as possible.
We hear your requests for all the information you need to make informed decisions for your family. We’re working hard to provide that information as quickly as possible. We’ve come far and are committed to delivering educational experiences at the highest standards possible.