‘It’s just been very challenging’: Local high school going virtual for the second time this semester

If the spread of COVID-19 doesn't slow soon, the whole district may move to virtual learning
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 7:08 PM EST
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ELIZABETHTOWN, N.C. (WECT) - Bladen County Schools announced that East Bladen High School was moving virtual just before the school bell rang Wednesday morning.

The switch to remote learning was decided after a dozen teachers called out due to COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result, leaving a staffing shortage at the school.

“We’re working through the best we can,” said Bladen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jason Atkinson. “I just think folks have been understanding and exhibited a lot of grace and patience because everything in every part of our life has been disrupted right now, so it’s just been very challenging. Since we’ve come back from Christmas, we’ve had some of our worst numbers since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s just been tough.”

When any Bladen County School moves to virtual instruction for any period of time, teachers will have material for students posted to their online portal, called Canvas.

“Now when we have these emergency situations, obviously we’re more flexible with that in terms of posting assignments, maybe teachers record instructional videos, if a student can get on live, they can,” Atkinson said. “We’re still trying to get our students educated the best we can, even with all these factors that we cannot control, but definitely a heart of a gratitude for every single person and the whole community working together through all these challenges.”

The district recently reopened the application for eligible students to move to virtual learning permanently for the remainder of the semester, but Atkinson says there have only been a handful of applications come in since, and only a dozen students in the district are currently learning remotely.

Some East Bladen High School parents shared concerns and frustrations hoping that all Bladen County Schools would move virtual for a few weeks or even the rest of the school year. Parents said that it doesn’t make sense to them that only one or two schools in the district would go virtual for a few days, up to a week at a time, when many students at that school likely have younger siblings in other schools in the county. Some of these parents also added that even though there is a mask mandate in BCS right now, they don’t believe it’s working, so they want their kids to stay home where they are safe.

While the district says they are working hard to keep the schools up and running, Atkinson noted that there is always a possibility for rules to change and the entire district to move to virtual learning for an extended period of time if the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t slow down soon.

“I think lots of Boards of Education and folks in my role have had that challenge that we’re trying to work through and obviously everyone wants [students] to be in person. Everyone is doing everything they can to keep school and even life in general as normal as possible, but I think that definitely it could be possible if it did go in the opposite direction, we would have to consider something like that,” Dr. Atkinson said.

Other parents said they didn’t want their kid(s) to be virtual, but they understand not having the amount of staff needed to cover all of the classes in person. Masks were another concern with one parent saying that her daughter doesn’t do well with virtual learning and has already fallen behind throughout the past year, and now wearing masks in school again is creating another distraction.

“You know, none of us asked to be in this situation,” Atkinson said. “There was never a textbook that taught us how to deal with the situation, I never had an education course, teachers and administrators never had courses that taught you how to deal with a pandemic.”

Dr. Atkinson says from the feedback he has received, many students and parents have been understanding of the current situation, and he hopes to get out of this pandemic as safely and quickly as possible.

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