Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools shelved one of its proposed reopening plans, and the board of education will now consider a new plan, one that is much more affordable and puts students from kindergarten through sixth grade back in brick-and-mortar schools for daily instruction.
Superintendent Angela Hairston presented the new plan to the board at a special called meeting on Tuesday. No action was taken on the plan.
Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to announce in a few weeks whether public schools in North Carolina will be allowed to open with minimal or moderate social distancing, or if remote learning will be required. Each of the state’s school systems is coming up with plans on how it will reopen schools based on guidelines from the state.
The challenge for the local board is how to reopen schools with moderate social distancing, known as Plan B. In such a plan, students must be spaced apart so that only 14 to 15 students can be a classroom. In June, the local district presented a plan that would have cost $45 million, with no source for that money.
“We don’t have those types of dollars so we have to look at resources and bring you a plan that we can execute,” Hairston said.
Under the new plan, students from K-6, as well as English learners, special needs children and others in self-contained classrooms would attend school daily.
Hairston said this plan will help parents who would have to choose between employment and leaving their children unattended.
Students in 7-9 grade would be divided into two groups, with one group going to school on Mondays and Tuesdays and the second group going to school on Thursdays and Fridays. When not learning in-person, those students would have remote instruction. Wednesdays would be a remote learning day for all students and give teachers time to plan those lessons.
Those classes would be taught in high schools, which have more classroom space.
The system had been looking at having these students in on alternating weeks.
“We felt this would enable us to place eyes on children every single week,” Hairston said.
Students in 10-12 grade would have virtual school on every day but Wednesday, which would be set aside for personal meetings or tutoring sessions.
One of the biggest changes will be with transportation. The state will now allow up to 24 students to sit on a bus, if they wear a mask. About half of the district’s 55,000 students ride a bus to school. But with reduced capacity, buses won’t have room for everyone.
Instead, the district will assign bus seating on a first-come, first-served basis. Typically, every student is assigned a bus route. Under the proposal, parents would need to register for a seat. The district hopes to arrange additional transportation through the Winston-Salem Transit Authority.
For students who can’t find transportation, the district will recommend that students attend the new Virtual Academy, which already has about 2,300 applicants.
“This is not a perfect plan,” Hairston said, “but it’s affordable to us.”
Board Member Barbara Burke said she has heard from several teachers who are fearful for their health if they are asked to return to the classroom. She and other board members asked about what sort of sick leave or workman’s compensation is available for teachers and other staff members who contract the virus while at school.
Dionne Jenkins, the district’s general counsel, said that information could be found through the district’s Human Resources Department and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. She said some legal information would need to be discussed in closed session.
Burke said her question was not answered.
“If I am an employee and received the response that was given I would feel even more uncomfortable after hearing the response than I did before the question was asked,” Burke said.
Employees should not have to use any of their personal or sick leave if they get sick with COVID-19, Burke said, agreeing with a point made earlier by Board Member Elisabeth Motsinger.
The board will hold another called meeting Thursday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss a potential resolution to the State Board of Education and Cooper seeking more support and consideration in light of the COVID-19 reopening options.