By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on February 9, 2021
Different plans for PreK-5 and grades 6-12
The Dare County Board of Education on Feb. 9 voted unanimously to return students to face-to-face instruction beginning on March 1. PreK-5 students will attend in-person learning Monday through Thursday while grades 6-12 students will attend face-to-face instruction in two cohorts – the first group attending Mondays and Tuesdays and the second on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Students in grades 6-12 will receive remote learning on the days that the other cohort is in the school building. Fridays will serve as an “asynchronous” day for all students and staff. On these days, students will not receive either face-to-face or remote instruction, but that day instead would be used for teacher planning.
A virtual learning option will continue to be available for all students who opt to stay remote. With the return to school, masks, social distancing and daily temperature checks and health screenings will be required for all students and staff. Students in grades 6-12 will eat lunch socially distanced in the cafeteria or in the classroom. At the elementary level, students will remain in their home base classrooms. Those students will also have lunch either socially distanced in the cafeteria or in the classroom.
Masks will not be required to be worn at recess unless six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained. Recess times will be staggered throughout the day to ensure classroom pods are not intermixed.
Under the re-opening plan recommended by Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly, all Dare County schools will also operate under a low-contact protocol to limit the number of staff members needing to be quarantined as a result of being a close contact to a COVID-19 positive case.
After opening schools to in-person learning last October, the district quickly faced a teacher shortage due to positive COVID-19 cases and quarantining that sidelined more than 80 staffers. With not enough teachers to staff classrooms, the Board of Education voted on Nov. 13 to return to remote learning.
“Our goal needs to be to get schools open and keep them open,” Farrelly asserted during the Feb. 9 meeting.
Under the new low-contact protocol, there will be no face-to-face meetings of school staff, as well as no congregation of adults in buildings or outside. Staff pods will provide coverage for individual classrooms and staff will be assigned spaces within the building for planning and eating.
“So, staff members will not congregate in the staff lounge to eat, they will be asked to eat in their classrooms or separate spaces,” Farrelly said. “Again, we don’t want to have to do this, but we are trying to open our schools and trying to keep our schools open.”
Specials and other related art classes will also be delivered virtually to students in their classrooms with the exception of Physical Education, which can be held outside. Those who work with AIG (Academically Intellectually Gifted) and ESL (English as a Second Language) students will also meet with them virtually.
Adults who provide supervision in the cafeteria must stay at least 10 feet away from other adults as well. “Part of our messaging with our staff is where we can, let’s go beyond the six feet [of social distancing],” explained Farrelly. “If we can eliminate and mitigate the amount of interaction with adults and spread them out…then we are going to be able to mitigate the number of staff that come in contact with each other and may have to be quarantined.”
Noting changes to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services quarantine guidelines, Farrelly said that if quarantined, school staff could return to work after seven days of no symptoms with a negative COVID-19 test result after five days in quarantine.
Farrelly noted that more than 80 percent of Dare County Schools staff took advantage of the COVID-19 vaccination offered to them by the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 23. That percentage, he said, is actually higher because of some staff that received their vaccination elsewhere.
Staff members who received their Jan. 23 first dose are slated to receive their second dose of the vaccine on February 13.
The superintendent noted that even a vaccinated staff member will be required to quarantine if identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case. He noted that the scientific reason someone who has been vaccinated still has to quarantine is because it has not been proven that a vaccinated individual cannot still be an asymptomatic carrier.
This story is a in-depth update of our previous report on school re-opening.