By Mark Jurkowitz | Outer Banks Voice on February 2, 2021
Update Feb. 2 at 8:50 pm: According to a post on the Hyde Schools Facebook page, the Hyde County Board of Education met tonight and voted to return to Plan B, In-person and Remote Instruction. Further details will be released on Wednesday.
Update Feb. 2 at 4:30 pm: In an email, Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly said that following Governor Cooper’s remarks on Feb. 2, he and the Dare County School Board have agreed to take up the issue of re-opening classrooms at the regularly scheduled Feb. 9 meeting rather than calling a separate meeting. That Feb. 9 meeting can be heard on YouTube and will begin at 5 p.m.
In remarks clearly aimed at local school districts, state officials today advocated for public school students who are now learning remotely to be returned to the classroom. This push comes as the Dare County Board of Education plans to convene a special meeting soon to debate re-opening those classrooms. The Hyde County Board of Education is meeting today, Feb. 2, to take up that issue.
“We learned much more about the virus,” since schools were first shut down in March 2020, said Governor Roy Cooper at the Feb. 2 afternoon briefing. “And now it’s time to get our children back in the classroom…Students can be in the classroom safely with the right safety protocols.” Cooper also said that at least 90 of the state’s 115 school districts currently have some form of in-person instruction.
“In short, this [COVID] crisis has negatively impacted students’ mental health and overall well- being,” as well as their academic progress, asserted NC Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt. “This is absolutely a challenge we must face head on.”
Separately, NC House Speaker Tim Moore issued a Feb. 2 statement “urging every school district to use strong sources of available funding to reopen for in-person student instruction this semester for every family who wants it.”
Cooper characterized his remarks about opening schools as “guidance” rather than something more formal such as an Executive Order. And he indicated that he would let individual school districts “make the decisions accordingly.” He also stated that students who choose to would have the option to remain in remote learning.
When asked at the briefing whether the state wanted all students to return to the classroom five days a week as opposed to a hybrid system that would put there a few days a week, NC Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said that depended on the schools’ capacity for maintaining social distancing among the entire student body.
Cohen also stressed the idea that students can return to school safely, stating that “children, particularly younger children, are less likely to get and spread COVID-19 than adults” and much less likely to experience severe illness.
Just one day before the briefing, Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly emailed a survey to school families “to get feedback on the potential reopening of school options to share with the Dare County Board of Education.”
According to Farrelly, the Dare County Board of Education will call a special meeting to discuss that issue after a Feb. 13 vaccine clinic at which Dare County Schools staff (DCS) will have the opportunity to get their second dose of COVID vaccine. The first shots were available to staff at a Jan. 23 vaccine clinic held at First Flight High School.
After starting the school year in remote learning, the Dare Board of Education opened classrooms in October, before voting to close again in November after COVID exposure and quarantining led to a shortage of teachers. Last month, by a 5-2 margin, the board voted to remain in remote learning through the third quarter.
In neighboring Currituck County, the Board of Education voted Jan. 7 to send high school students back to classrooms in a hybrid system, joining the elementary and middle school students who have been doing in-person learning that way since the fall. The Hyde County Board of Education voted on Dec. 31 to have all students learn remotely until its meeting on Feb. 2.
At about the same time as the Feb. 2 press briefing, the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) issued a statement calling for the speedy vaccination of all teachers in order to ensure that schools can be opened safely.
“If Governor Cooper feels so strongly about resuming in-person instruction quickly, then he should support educators and immediately bring the full weight of his office to bear to get all educators vaccinated by the end of this month, just as 25 other states have been able to do,” the statement read. “In the meantime, we encourage local school boards to continue to make decisions that protect students and educators based on local conditions.”
Dare County teachers will have been offered two doses of the COVID vaccine by Feb. 13. And asked at the briefing about the need to vaccinate teachers in general, Cooper said that, “Teachers are in the group of essential workers and they are up next in the priority.”