WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Board of Education and county Board of Commissioners held a joint news conference Wednesday to discuss the decision to transition Pre-K and K-5 elementary schools from Plan B to Plan A.
Plan A refers to face-to-face instruction five days a week, and will be effective Monday, Jan. 11. A full-time remote option will continue to be available to families not ready to transition back to in-person learning.
Stephanie Walker, a newly elected board member and the only member who voted against Plan A at Tuesday night’s meeting says she believes the vote to transition to Plan A was predetermined to happen.
“Regardless of the preparedness or any of questions/deliberations of the new board members,” said Walker in a statement to WECT. “A postponement was never going to be considered by either the Superintendent or the ruling members of the board. Let me be clear, I am not opposed to the reopening of schools if it can be done safely with the health of our families and our educational staff in mind, but I was forced to vote with minimal information. For that reason, I was forced to vote no.”
Walker was not at the press conference Wednesday.
Board of Education Chair Stefanie Adams offered her thanks to county commissioners for their support for the plan, as well as the county’s monetary commitment to school system bonuses. The support and guidance of the county health department guided the decisions.
Members of the County Commission were also in attendance including Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman.
“Education has been and will continue to be our board’s top priority. That’s why we voted unanimously to provide $750 bonuses for each New Hanover County School employee,” she said.
Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust explained that while elementary school students can return starting Jan. 11, middle and high school students and families will choose between full remote or Plan B schedule learning that has been in place since Oct 12. Students in those upper level grades who require additional resources will be permitted to attend classes in person four times a week.
Principals can also extend additional in person learning to students currently struggling or failing courses, Foust said.
“Our goal was always to return students to the classrooms as soon as it was safe to do so,” he said.
When it comes to the health risks associated with reopening schools, Director of New Hanover County Health Phillip Tarte offered some insights.
Tarte said, as of today, there have been 146 children diagnosed with COVID-19 between the ages of 5-10, and there are currently 22 students in that age group testing positive. There are no active clusters in the schools at this time, he said.
Tarte also explained that exposure to COVID-19 for children is generally not serious, and said that most cases of students testing positive are getting it from outside of the schools, not inside.
“It takes all of us working together to help our families and our young people to go to school safely,” said Tarte. “By slowing the spread of COVID-19 across our community, we prevent it from entering school settings and allow the young children in the community to have the structure and the enrichment that school provides.”
Olson-Boseman said the commissioners and school board will have a joint meeting in January to discuss more details of the plan.