NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Board of Education voted to move PreK through 5th grades to Plan A starting March 8.
The motion passed 5-2.
The dissenting votes were cast by Judy Justice and Stephanie Walker.
“I just feel like we’re right in that peak where we’re close to being ready but we’re not quite there,” Walker said. “In the end I just had to vote what I felt was the safest.”
Dr. Charles Foust made the motion to approve the move to Plan A from March 8 for the final nine weeks and it was seconded by Pete Wildeboer.
Chairwoman Stefanie Adams voted in favor.
“What we’ve tried to do is keep the students at the center of it, but we have amazing educators and a lot of them are really fearful of this and honestly, with the announcement today that they’re being moved up in the vaccine schedule, that made it easier,” she said.
Students can still choose full-time remote learning. All elementary families will be contacted by the school to verify their attendance option for the final nine weeks.
Students in grades 6-12 will continue to operate under Plan B AA/BB schedule.
Prior to their vote, board members heard COVID-19 updates from representatives of the New Hanover County Public Health and Human Services to determine levels of risk associated with the decision. Public health officials do not weigh in on the decision; they only provide the latest data, reports and answer questions regarding community response.
Going forward, Adams said “I think we have to be realistic that we’re going to have to flex and adapt and it’s going to change between now and the end of the year. COVID is not predictable and so how we face it is not going to be predictable.”
Many if not all board members acknowledged their receipt of large numbers of emails from concerned parents and teachers. Stephanie Walker was among those who said she reads every single email.
“All the school board members care deeply about our community and our kids,” Walker said. “It was a very difficult decision. We also spoke with each other between times and in the end we all just voted our conscience.”
After the meeting, Amanda White, president of the New Hanover County Association of Educators released a statement:
When New Hanover County elementary schools fully reopen on March 8th, our youngest students will go into buildings without 6-feet of social distancing during a pandemic. This is a gamble with their health. In nearby Brunswick County, that gamble has not gone so smoothly. A number of fully reopened Brunswick County schools have had to close temporarily because of COVID clusters, including Town Creek Elementary back in December which devolved into the state’s worst super spreader campus with 38 COVID infections. Vaccinating our public school employees will be critical before they are sent back into schools without 6-feet of social distancing, but we must still be vigilant to protect our children in these schools from the virus. This will take a conscientious effort from all of us.