Dare students to return to remote learning

Published 7:47 am Monday, November 16, 2020

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Dare County Schools return to remote learning for all grades on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

At the end of a two-hour meeting late Friday afternoon, Dare’s school board voted 6 to 1 for remote or virtual learning for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students. Exceptional children and those in extended content classes will remain in face-to-face classrooms. Athletics, band and clubs will continue.

Board member David Twiddy made the motion and board vice chair Mary Ellon Ballance seconded the motion.

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Board member Harvey Hess tried to amend the motion to allow students in grades kindergarten through 5 to continue face-to-face instruction, but the amendment failed for lack of a second. Hess voted against returning to remote learning.

The school board faced a breaking point.

On Friday, Nov. 13, 85 teachers were absent from classrooms due to COVID-19 protocols. The COVID-19 absentees represent 24% of the system’s teaching staff. The number of absentees were higher in elementary schools. A total of 96 teachers were absent.

In a Nov. 12 email, Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly painted a picture of a school system in COVID-19 trouble.

On that date, two new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 emerged in Dare County Schools. One case was in Manteo Elementary and the other one was at Cape Hatteras Elementary School.

Contact tracing by the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services identified over 50 new direct contacts in these schools. Quarantining started immediately. Some 25% of the entire Cape Hatteras Elementary staff is included in that figure.

On Nov.12, Farrelly wrote Dare County Schools had 379 students and 69 staff members who are direct contacts and are in quarantine. Most of the 69 staff members are teachers. The school system has had 17 school positive associated cases since schools reopened Oct. 26, 2020.

Deep cleaning was scheduled for Cape Hatteras Elementary on Friday, Nov. 13 and the school was closed to all students and staff.

First Flight Middle School was also closed Friday, Nov. 13, not for cleaning, but because 10 substitutes were needed. At Manteo Elementary School, 19 teachers were out, representing 46% of the teaching staff. Only 88 substitute teachers are available.

In the midst of Farrelly’s presentation, board members Hess and Joe Tauber questioned Farrelly about Dare County Health Director Sheila Davies’ decision-making about contact tracing that affected so many students and staff. Tauber wanted Davies to appear to answer questions and argued other school systems are handling COVID-19 cases differently.

Assistant Superintendent Sandy Kinzel reported that inequities in teaching loads exist. One teacher was carrying 178 students. Teachers are using planning periods to teach, are providing the required virtual option and teaching students face-to-face. “There’s a breaking point,” she said.

Hess was appointed to the board February 5, 2020 to replace Ben Sproul, who was elected mayor of Kill Devil Hills. Hess said at the time he would not run for election and he didn’t. Hess will be replaced on the board by Susan Bothwell, who defeated Jen Alexander in the Nov. 3 election.

Hess said he was a Dare County social studies teacher for 25 years. He taught at Manteo High School and had 35 students in six classes every day. He said “So, I think it’s time to step up. Everybody’s working.” He said those who are working don’t understand the complaints about teacher loads.

He finished the exchange with “You know, it’s your job. If you’re a teacher it’s your job to teach. And, you know, if you don’t feel like you can do the job, get another job.”

Kinzel said “With all due respect, our teachers are teaching and . . .” Hess interrupted and said “And, I’ve said that every single time I’ve worked here.”

At that point, board Chairman Bea Basnight redirected the discussion, bringing the issue back into focus. “We don’t have enough staff to staff the buildings.”

Farrelly summarized the staffing situation:

– DCS not have enough substitutes for every vacancy.

– Some teaching assistants are teaching.

– Some teachers filling in are out of field.

– Many teachers do not have planning time.

– Many staff are assuming extra responsibilities.

– Virtual teaching loads are extreme.

– Many specials classes have been canceled.

At the board meeting, Farrelly outlined what would happen if Dare County Schools returned to remote learning. He amplified items in an email on Saturday morning:

– Stay in remote learning until end of first semester, Jan. 15, 2021.

– K-5 students in remote and K-5 students in traditional will stay with current teachers.

– Grades 6-12 students return to original remote teachers.

– Pre-k students will be served remotely.

– Nov. 16 and 17 are workdays and time for distribution of electronic devices. Principals will announce times. All students will be off these two days.

– Dec. 2 will be an instructional day.

– The feeding program would resume the multiple site model, with 15 sites.

– Athletic programs, band and after-school clubs to continue.

– Continue with extended content classes to serve 88 students.

– Some categories of staff would be furloughed, such as after school enrichment employees and some bus drivers, but not likely child nutrition staff.

– The health screening app remains in place for all staff and students in extended content classes and those in after-school activities.

– An updated remote learning guidebook will be released Monday.

– Changes back to original classes in PowerSchool will appear Wednesday for parents.

School board members continued discussion, focusing on delivering consistent, effective instruction.

Tauber voiced his desire to have Davies come to a board meeting to see if she can revise the quarantine protocol that she is following.

Farrelly advocated for the 1,000 employees in the system, praising the commitment of teachers and leadership of 37 administrators.

The last action of the board was to adopt the calendar changes suggested by Farrelly. The vote was six in favor and one abstention from Hess.