The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday to pause the re-entry of students back into the classroom, pushing the date to Jan. 11.
The school board voted 7-2 in favor of the plan, which was the recommendation of Interim Superintendent Tricia McManus in her first meeting since taking over from Angela Hairston, whose last day was Friday.
In her recommendation, McManus asked the board to consider the concerns of teachers and staff members worried about contracting COVID-19 and the long-term harm in delaying in-person learning.
“The number of positive cases is rising, and we have to validate how our teachers are feeling,” she said.
Data presented to the board showed that the number of students getting D’s and F’s in core classes in the first quarter is dramatically higher than last year. In middle school, for example, the percentage of kids getting D’s and F’s in core classes was 70% this year compared with 46% last year.
“We are seeing learning loss,” McManus said.
Going into the meeting, she planned to recommend that second- and third-grade students return the week after Thanksgiving, but with Christmas break on the horizon, she said it would give kids little time to get into the routine of school.
Her plan, she said, is to bring students back to schools “with an aggressive timeline.”
Currently, pre-kindergarten through first-grade students are in schools, which amounts to about 6,000 kids.
Under the plan approved by the board, grades 2, 3 will return as well as cohorts of sixth-graders, who will alternate in-person and remote learning on Jan. 11.
On Jan. 18, grades 4, 5, 7 and 8 will return in cohorts. High school students will return in cohorts on Jan. 21.
McManus said that the plan could change based on the data.
Forsyth County, like the rest of the state and country, is experiencing a surge in cases, with Harvard putting it in the nation’s highest risk category for COVID-19 exposure.
Thirteen people have died from the virus over the past five days, and the county has had 21 days with new case counts of at least 80 since Oct. 16.
The vote drastically changes a reopening plan that the school board approved in early October. Over the past few meetings, the board has tweaked the reopening plan, based in part on the high number of COVID-19 cases in Forsyth County.
Andrea Bramer and Barbara Burke favored a motion for all students to return on Jan. 11, including those currently in classes. That motion failed. Elisabeth Motsinger had been voting with Bramer and Burke, but she voted for McManus’ recommendation.
She asked McManus if the board would consider establishing metrics that would help the district when school should open and when it should close.
The vote came after a four-hour meeting that included updates on how the district has been dealing with staffing, screening, facilities and instruction.