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Forsyth County school board asks state for new reopening guidelines

Forsyth County school board asks state for new reopening guidelines

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The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board passed a resolution Thursday that sends a message to the N.C. General Assembly and Gov. Roy Cooper: Come up with a new set of reopening guidelines.

Since mid-June, the school system has been scrambling to draft plans that follow guidelines set forth by Cooper, with input from state health officials, for the safe reopening of schools for the 2020-21 school year. Cooper asked schools to prepare for three different scenarios — one for minimal social distancing, one for moderate social distancing and one for remote learning.

On July 1, he delayed his scheduled announcement of which plan schools should use to start the year. On that same day, North Carolina saw its largest single-day increase in coronavirus cases at that time, with 1,843.

The number of COVID-19 cases in the state has continued to climb, with more than 79,000 known cases as of late Friday morning.

Based on Cooper’s directive, local school officials came up with a few proposals that meet the guidelines. The plan for moderate social distancing is particularly challenging, calling for students to social distance in classrooms and on buses, requirements that present a host of cumbersome and expensive scenarios.

One plan for moderate social distancing, which the school system presented to a special committee of school board members, would cost $45 million — money the school system says it does not have.

Superintendent Angela Hairston presented another plan Tuesday, one that would not cost additional money. But it’s a plan that most parents, students and staff members would find less than ideal as it involves limited bus transportation, remote instruction for students in grades 10-12 and daily in-person instruction for students in grades K-6.

Additionally, many staff members would have reassigned duties, including screening students for the virus.

The school board has not voted on any reopening plans.

The resolution, in part, asks the state to “revise the proposed plans and directives so that they can be implemented safely, practicably and without requiring school systems to expend additional local funds,” provide additional money to implement the plans, be given flexibility to change the calendar to allow for remote learning and provide additional teacher allotments because of reduced classroom capacity.

The resolution also noted the expense of providing technology and training and the increased workload on teachers, which, the resolution read, “will likely lead to an increase in teacher turnover and a negative impact on students, families and the community.”

Board member Barbara Burke asked school administrators to come up with a new plan, one based on surveys that should be sent to parents and teachers.

Hairston said both groups were surveyed in June.

“There’s no way we can meet the requirements of the state and get every student in the building every day,” Hairston said.

Once Cooper announces a reopening plan, the school system will start reaching out to the community through focus groups and talk to teachers about their concerns. It will then come up with a plan to present to the school board. The resolution passed, with Burke voting “no.”

Board member Elisabeth Motsinger said the resolution is a way for the state to hear the board’s concerns and is a separate issue from the local reopening plan.

“We’re talking about the board giving a message to the General Assembly and the governor about what our concerns are and does not define how we go forward from here,” she said.

lodonnell@wsjournal.com

336-727-7420

@lisaodonnellWSJ

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