During a two-and-a-half hour meeting, Cleveland County’s school board announced a new return to school plan for young students.
After hearing the recommendations of a recently established COVID committee, board members voted six to three for a phased approach to getting elementary school students back into full-time education.
The plan, which was passed during the board meeting on Monday evening, calls for children in preschool through first grade to return to class on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday starting February 22nd.
On March 8, all students from K through fourth grade went back to school five days a week with a distance learning option.
For months, board members have set return dates and then pushed them back due to rising COVID-19 cases across the county and state. That could happen again, but board members said they were confident it won’t, as the virus is expected to peak before February 22nd.
As he did during regular meetings during the pandemic, Superintendent Stephen Fisher gave the board an overview of the number of coronavirus cases in schools to date.
He found that in the week of January 11, 90 students or employees were quarantined for COVID-19. That number was 69 the following week.
“We’re going in a good direction,” said Fisher.
During his report, Fisher shared with board members that just over 5,500 students are taking classes in person, a fraction of the 14,000 students who are normally on campus outside of the pandemic.
Before voting, several people gave their opinion on distance learning verses in a full-time return class.
Some comments showed concern that students are falling behind for not having the support they need at home to learn what to do remotely.
Others have expressed concern about the health of students, teachers and other staff if they return too early.
Jennifer Foster, a teacher at Cleveland County Schools, said she had the full experience of teaching completely remotely early in the pandemic. Now she’s doing a mix of distance learning and in-person lessons.
She said she was happy with the current setup, which keeps class sizes small enough to really distance themselves.
“I’m worried about the next plan. I’m satisfied with Plan B (Blended Learning), ”she said on the board.
Board members said they are keen to make vaccines available to teachers so that the risk is reduced and regular classes can be resumed.
According to Fisher, Cleveland County is sticking to the state’s distribution plan, which still focuses on residents 65 and over. He said there are plans for when vaccines will be available for staff, and noted that if that happens, there could be a few days of distance learning so schools could be used as mass clinics.
“We advocate our turn as soon as possible … We are all on deck when it is our turn,” he said.
The committee that made the most recent recommendation for return to class consists of three board members, parents, teachers, frontline health workers, and central school staff.
Robert Queen, Danny Blanton, Joel Shores, Rodney Fitch, Greg Taylor and Ron Humphries voted to approve the plan. Coleman Hunt, Phillip Glover and Dena Green voted against.
Diane Turbyfill can be reached at 704-669-3334 and [email protected].