WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Board of Education on Wednesday voted to delay the transition to in-person instruction (Plan A) at the district’s elementary schools.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the board voted 6-1, with Nelson Beaulieu being the lone dissenting vote, for elementary students to remain in remote-only learning until at least Jan. 25, when the district will move into Plan B — a combination of in-person and remote learning.
The extra time is to give staff an opportunity to adjust to the logistics of Plan B, particularly in regards to transportation. Superintendent Charles Foust said the transition is not like a switch that can flip from one day to the next and that administration needs a week and a half to make all of the changes.
Ahead of the meeting, some parents and members of the New Hanover County Association of Educators (NHCAE) voiced their concerns about transitioning young students back into the classroom full time with a plan that only mandated three feet of social distancing.
The NHCAE was previously calling on the board to ensure six feet of social distancing was in place in classrooms, along with full transparency of COVID-19 infections inside schools, once students were back in session.
Several board members called this ‘the toughest decision’ of their lives, acknowledging that students and families are struggling.
They say they want kids back in school, however, New Hanover County’s statistics have worsened significantly since the vote to transition to Plan A one month ago. At that time, we were in the ‘yellow’ category as outlined by the state and now we’re in the ‘red.’
Beaulieu says his perspective has changed over the course of the pandemic and he now feels its imperative to get kids back in the classroom.
“I was firm on 5% [rate of local virus transmission] on safety, safety, safety, but you know the virus is not the only thing that causes damage,” Beaulieu said. “You get emails and stories that are heart-breaking. To hear a mother say ‘my daughter is circling...’ That’s really tough to hear again and again and eventually the scales just sort of tipped for me.”
Some students fear their futures are slipping away.
Ella Dixon-Kline is a 10th grade student at Laney High School. She was part of a group of families who held signs outside the Board of Education building ahead of the meeting Wednesday morning.
She is working to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy. She hopes to become an officer and a Navy pilot.
“My grades have suffered because online learning doesn’t work for me and that’s really, really scaring me,” she said. “I had a 3.9 GPA and I’ve dropped down to a 3.6. The bare minimum to get into the Naval Academy is a 3.625. I’m a sophomore and I want to be able to go. I have been planning my future and I want the same chance as everyone else.”
Several board members expressed that they want parents and families who will be upset by this decision to know that they hear their concerns.
“I hear them. I know the board hears them and I believe this is a decision my fellow board members reached in good faith,” Beaulieu said. “I just felt like our kids have had their lives paused for a year. And we had to do that. We had to follow the science, we had to follow the data. AS time has gone on, I’ve started to see some of the damage that that isolation has done, the academic decline that we’ve seen with some of our youngest students. I just felt it was really important to at least give voice to that if the board was going to go in a different direction.”’
The board will continue evaluating health data.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the board received and update on county statistics from the department of health and they also heard a presentation on school safety from the ABC Science Collaborative which is a third party analysis group.
The research essentially found that schools are safe when the three w’s are followed and schools are not considered to be super-spreaders.
However, as some board members noted, that data was from a few months ago and some members questioned whether it can be applied to the current situation moving into Plan A.
At this point, there is no date set for a potential move to Plan A.
However, several board members hope to see teachers receiving vaccines sooner rather than later and are optimistic that our COVID-19 numbers will start to drop as vaccinations ramp up.
Stephanie Kraybill expressed relief at having come to a decision.
“I was a little apprehensive in December when we made that choice because it was just so fast. I was really going on a leap of faith that we were going to have a good plan and our numbers weren’t going to be up,” she said. ”I just want people to know that I do want kids back in school and I know that they’re struggling, that families are struggling on so many different levels and we’re going to continue to watch all those avenues.”