Majority vote leads to first quarter remote learning for DCS students

Published 6:10 pm Monday, July 20, 2020

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The Dare County Board of Education gathered for a special meeting on July 20 at First Flight High School to discuss their options for the reopening of schools in fall.

The state of North Carolina had previously announced that August 17 would be the start date for students to return to school. After NC Govenor Roy Cooper made his decision to follow “Plan B,” a hybrid plan that meant both in and out of school learning for students, Dare County Schools laid out their five options for what school could look like in the fall.

The five options are as follows:

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Option 1:

  • Virtual learning for the first semester for those in K-12
  • Preschool attends school every other day
  • Grades K-6 attend attends school on-site 5 days a week (spread out among the campuses depending on student numbers)
  • Grades 7-12 remote learning (with potential to schedule additional instructional support on-site)
  • Grades 7-12 special populations (EC, 504, ESL) have option of attending daily

Option 2:

  • Virtual learning option for the first semester for anyone in K-12
  • Preschool attends every other day
  • Prek- 12 attends onsite in A/B cohorts on alternating days each week/Remote learning on off-site days:
    • Cohort A (half the alphabet) attends Monday/Tuesday and are remote Thursday/Friday, Wednesday is remote for all (deep cleanse of buildings), Cohort B (the other half of the alphabet) attends Thursday/Friday and are remote Monday/Tuesday
    • Students in the same immediate family will be grouped in the same cohort as much as possible
  • Special populations (EC,504, ESL) have the option of attending daily

Option 3:

  • Virtual learning option for the first semester for anyone in K-12
  • Preschool attends every other day
  • K-12 attends onsite in A/B cohorts on alternating weeks. Remote learning on off-site weeks
  • Cohort A attends on-site weeks 1,3,5 and remote weeks 2,4,6
  • Cohort B is on-site weeks 2,4,6 and remote weeks 1,3,5
  • Students in the same immediate family will be grouped in the same cohort as much as possible
  • Special populations (EC,504, ESL) have the option of attending daily

Option 4:

  • Virtual learning option for the first semester for anyone in K-12
  • PK-12 begins the year in remote instruction until a specified date (Ex. September 1, September 15, October 1). This concept provides time to see if local COVID-19 related data and mitigation efforts improve.
  • PK-12 then transitions out of remote to a plan above (DCS 1, 2 or 3)

Option 5:

  • The entire school system is remote for the first semester or until a Governor mandate to move to Plan A, in-person learning

Superintendent John Farrelly spent the first several hours of the meeting on Monday afternoon detailing each plan in terms of what would be required, what classrooms would look like, what staffing issues would need to be addressed and how remote learning would work.

In an effort to see what page the teachers, staff members and parents of the community were on in terms of the five options, DCS sent out a survey on July 15. The survey asked participants to rank their first to last option preferences. The results were split.

Of the 474 staff members that participated, the majority chose Option 5 as their first preference, and Option 1, overwhelming, as their least favorite preference.

Conversely, of the approximate 1,600 parent and guardian respondents, most preferred Option 2, with a close second of Option 1. The majority was opposed to Option 5.

Interestingly enough, the second least favorited option was also Option 1 when it came to the parent/guardian response.

Cooper also announced last week that Plan C, virtual learning, would also be an option for anyone who chose that was best for their child(ren). Farrelly noted, “If parents feel so strongly with their students that they want the virtual option, we have to make it happen, and we’ll do that to the best of our ability.”

“For multiple reasons, if remote’s on the table, we are better equipped to serve children with their regular classroom teachers across the entire school system,” Farrelly added. He differentiated “remote” and “virtual” in that remote learning is a short-term solution, one that can be changed depending on new evidence, changes in executive orders and more, whereas virtual is a long-term course of action.

As for the board’s input on the matter, they were torn. Board members Harvey Hess and Joe Tauber were in favor of having children return to school in the “least restrictive environment” as possible, as soon as possible. “I think if we don’t put our kids back in school, particularly our K-6 kids…we’re doing a disservice to them,” voiced Hess.

Vice Chair Mary Ellon Ballance countered from an at-risk standpoint, pointing out that children can actively carry COVID-19 home to their caregivers. She erred on the side of caution, leaning towards being more “conservative” now as opposed to sending students back right away.

Chair Bea Basnight agreed, opting to choose a date to come back and revisit the issue after more training was conducted amongst the school body. She suggested starting off the year remotely, and reconvening in the months to come. “It would buy us some time,” she noted.

Board member Margaret Lawler brought the board back to the teacher response rate, which was majorly in favor of Option 5, and Ballance looked at the decision from a financial perspective. “How much is the state going to give us to hire more staff? If the state is not going to give us more money, then we have to pull from our county dollars,” Ballance said.

Ultimately, Ballance moved to have DCS follow Option 4, and have Pre-K through 12 students begin the year with remote instruction until the end of the first quarter, which is October 23. This motion allows the board to come back and revisit their options for the rest of the semester anytime between now and the end of October.

During the discussion period following the motion, Hess continued to pursue Option 1, allowing students K-6 to attend class in-person. However, in a 5-2 vote, Ballance’s motion carried.



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