In a somewhat confusing and convoluted discussion coming at the end of a nearly four-hour meeting, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday to scrap one plan for determining when schools would reopen and follow different guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The board will base its reopening decision on two core indicators established by the CDC. Those indicators are Forsyth's positivity rate of COVID-19 tests over 14 days and the number of new cases per 100,000 people over 14 days.
Board members did not determine what levels the numbers must meet in order to signal a return to in-person learning.
On Oct. 1, the school board approved a staggered return to school using a hybrid plan that mixes remote and online learning, with the first wave of elementary students set to return as soon as Nov. 2.
As part of a motion to approve reopening at that meeting, board member Marilyn Parker said that she would like the return to school to be anchored to a metric, namely that children could return when the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is at or below 5% for 10 consecutive days, according to statistics gathered by the county’s Department of Public Health.
But that created confusion within the community.
Board Member Elisabeth Motsinger and Superintendent Angela Hairston both said in the ensuing days they have received numerous emails from people wanting clarification.
Hairston said that after that meeting she and some of her staff visited with public health officials, who recommended that the district look at two core indicators from the CDC.
However, the CDC guidelines make no mention of when it is safe to open schools.
The guidelines call for school districts to take mitigating measures, such as mask-wearing and contact tracing, and tighten them up based on what risk zone they fall into.
The number of positive cases in the county is trending slightly upward, with a testing positivity rate that would have delayed the start of schools based on the Oct. 1 vote.
Hairston said that looking at tests alone can be misleading because some people who live outside of the county are testing in Forsyth County, potentially skewing the numbers.
Parker made the motion to align reopening plans with the CDC guidelines, saying that the data would be discussed more thoroughly at the board’s COVID-19 committee meetings.
The change upset some school board members, with both Motsinger and Barbara Burke both saying that the board is rushing to set a metric without a full discussion.
Burke referenced the Oct. 1 vote.
“The metric vote was rushed and it was confusing and several people were talking at once. That said, we did set a metric, and we’re not meeting the metric that was set, and if we’re going to make another amendment we should make one that is more thoughtful … than what we are doing tonight," she said.
The vote mirrored the reopening vote on Oct. 1, with board members Deanna Kaplan, Leah Crowley and Dana Caudill Jones, Lida Calvert-Hayes and Malishai Woodbury voting for Parker’s motion, and Motsinger, Burke and Andrea Bramer voting against it.