Public school officials here said a worst-case scenario could have some school students returning home as late as 9:30 in the evening when school starts in August, thanks to COVID-19 distancing requirements that could limit buses to eight to 12 students per bus.
That was just one of the many challenges that members of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education heard about as they spent almost four hours Wednesday reviewing school operations in a COVID-19 world.
Darrell Walker, the assistant superintendent of operations for the schools, told school board members that the system is hoping the state will allow a larger number of students onto buses to prevent the worst-case scenario from unfolding.
But even a 12-student-per-bus limit would be hard on students and their families, Walker said.
“I’m really hoping the state realizes that this 8 to 12 on a bus is not going to work,” Walker said. “There is a lot of conversation about changing this. We may have to have some conversations about bell times.”
Walker used an example of an elementary school bus stop in Clemmons where 110 students get on the bus.
“It typically takes two and a half to three buses to pick up that particular stop,” Walker said. “In this scenario, it is going to take up to 12 buses.”
Walker said some scenarios would have students arriving at school anywhere from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with an arrival time at home anywhere from 8:30 to 9:30 at night.
“When we have eight to 12 kids on a bus, it is going to be really challenging,” he said.
At the same time, school officials say having more parents bring their kids to school instead of putting them on the bus is not a quick fix.
“That creates its own set of problems, because every child who arrives by car will have to have a temperature screen before their parents can leave the parking lot,” said board member Elisabeth Motsinger. “I want parents to be thinking about that, because one of the things folks are so concerned about is their jobs and dropping off their children. That car rider line will take much longer than it has previously ... if someone thinks I am going to drop someone off at school and it is going to take 10 minutes, it will probably not happen that way.”
School officials and parents all over North Carolina will be paying close attention today when Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to announce the rules that will govern the reopening of school this fall.
On July 7, the school board will meet at 5 p.m. and is expected to decide how much real and virtual time in the classrooms that students will get depending on their grade levels.
Local school leaders are looking at two scenarios they may adopt if Cooper goes with a plan that would allow classes to resume with moderate social distancing.
The common element in both scenarios is that children from Pre-Kindergarten to third grade would be going to school in person four days a week. Educators believe that kind of steady exposure to school is vital to give youngsters a good start on their educational path.
The fifth day, a day off for students which could be on a Friday, is one that would give teachers time to plan. Planning time would be important because grades 4 through 12 could be split into two groups, with each group attending school for a week while the other group studies remotely. The groups would then switch, so that all the students would get a mix of real and virtual classroom time.
Or, the system could adopt a plan that gives students through the eighth grade four days a week of real classroom time, but having students in grades 9-12 attend school only by remote means.
To put that plan into effect, elementary students in grades 4-5 would attend class in the middle school buildings, and grades 6-8 would attend classes in the high school buildings.
Because of social-distancing requirements, classrooms could only accommodate 15 to 18 students, the educators said.
As well, educators said, each school will have to have a classroom or two to serve as a quarantine room for any student who starts showing symptoms of the coronavirus during the day.
Parents or other guardians would be notified, but it might take time in some cases to get in touch with a parent. The student would stay in the quarantine classroom until he or she could be taken home.
Another logistical hassle for the schools is where to store all the classroom furniture that has to be taken out to make classrooms fit for proper social distancing.
The schools plan to beef up custodian services as well, so that hard surfaces and things that get touched a lot can be disinfected a lot.
Another set of logistical hurdles faces instruction for students who are disabled or who otherwise need some type of classroom accommodation. Where masking may be normal in most cases, people teaching the deaf need face-to-face interaction, educators said.
Another common accommodation is for the student to be seated close to a teacher. In many cases, educators said Wednesday, parents will have to serve as “learning coaches” for their children.
The list of what has to change went on and on Wednesday, taking in everything from maintenance to figuring out how to take virtual field trips.
Superintendent Angela Hairston suggested that the schools can’t go it alone in the coming year.
“It is going to take the entire community working together,” she said.