By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on July 27, 2020
After intense discussion and a failed motion, the Currituck County Board of Education on July 27 voted by a 3-2 margin to opt for remote learning for all students for the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year. The board left open the possibility that it could revisit the matter sooner if conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic improve.
Board Chair Karen Ethridge made the motion, with Vice Chair Dwan Craft seconding her motion. Board member Bill Dobney also voted in favor while members Will Crodick and Janet Rose cast the dissenting votes. The school year beings on Aug. 17.
The decision followed a failed motion by Crodick to begin the school year with remote learning and then bring students in kindergarten through fifth grade back into the classroom after four weeks, with middle and high school students returning at the nine-week mark.
The board of education met last week in a work session, where they discussed the possibility of starting the year of with a hybrid approach that would have included half the student population attending Monday and Tuesday, half attending Thursday and Friday, and all students engaged in remote learning on Wednesdays. That idea was rejected because of the challenges of operating under state restrictions along with concerns over the health and safety of students and staff.
Earlier this month, Governor Roy Cooper announced that schools would follow what has been referred to as Plan B, which requires schools that open to operate at reduced capacity to allow for six feet of social distancing. Under the plan, districts would also have to provide virtual learning for any students who did not wish to return to the classroom. The governor also said that districts could open the school year under Plan C, with remote learning only for all students.
Noting at the July 27 meeting that opening under Plan B would be a “disaster waiting to happen,” Etheridge said of moving forward with Plan C: “I just have to err on the side of caution as far as the safety of our children, our fiscal condition and how we could implement it with without bankrupting the school system.”
In response to a question by the board, Currituck County Schools Interim Superintendent Matt Lutz said that transportation costs under a hybrid option would translate into nearly $50,000 a week for the district. To bring on school nurses full time would cost the district an additional $90,000.
Lutz, who said there have been some employees in the district who have tested positive for COVID-19, also spoke to the complexity of protocols when it came to positive cases in the and quarantining measures in those cases. While stressing the need to get students back in school as soon as possible, Lutz added, that “under the restrictions the governor gave us, and given the requirements under quarantining, [Plan] C is our best option.”
For his part, Crodick cited the high COVID-19 recovery rate, particularly among children, and stressed the need to get kindergarten through fifth grade students back to school as quickly as possible. “I think four weeks gives us ample time to do that,” he said.
Board Member Rose said that with school buildings closed, families are experiencing financial hardships, and some children are facing abuse and neglect. “I worry we haven’t seen many of those children since March…there is more than just the virus to worry about.”
Superintendent Lutz, citing parent surveys nationwide, said that districts are all faced with tough decisions. “No matter what choice is made, there’s about forty percent of people who are not going to be pleased with that decision. We are in a tough spot at this point in time.”
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