By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on April 1, 2021
By a 6-1 margin, The Dare County Board of Education voted today to offer four days of in-person learning for all students in Pre-K through 12th grade beginning on April 13. The vote was taken at an April 1 special meeting after board members considered three options – to maintain the district’s current instructional operation, move to the four-day plan or bring students back five days a week.
Students in grades 6-12, currently on a two-day hybrid schedule, will attend school Monday through Thursday with Fridays serving as an asynchronous day and teacher planning day. Students in grades Pre-K through fifth will continue with this schedule, which has been in effect for them since returning to face-to-face instruction last month. Students who have chosen remote-only learning can remain in that program.
“With all these three options, there are hardships,” stated Board Member Joe Tauber before making the motion that was approved. “We are looking at hardships for everybody and trying to make the best possible decision we can… the hardships for the students, the hardships for the parents and the hardships for the teachers. [This option] is a good transition to what might occur hopefully in the fall.”
Board Member Carl Woody offered a second to the motion while Board Member Margaret Lawler cast the lone dissenting vote. Lawler pointed to a district-wide survey of staff members that indicated 53 percent of all district staff – and 65 percent of staff in grades 6 to 12 – preferred to continue operating in the current instructional model for the remainder of the school year.
“The teachers overwhelmingly asked we don’t change anything, and my concern is having all the kids together without social distancing…we are going to have kids going out for fourteen days and there is going to be an increase in COVID exposure,” stated Lawler.
While the survey results, presented during the meeting by Dare County Schools Director of Innovation Johanna Parker, indicated a preference by the majority of teachers to keep things the way they are, the results also revealed that the majority of parents with students in grades 6 to 12 wanted to see their students return to more in-person learning.
Of the 946 parents of students in grades 6-12 who responded to the survey, 59 percent said that they were interested in their students attending face-to-face instruction up to five days a week, 18 percent said they were unsure, and 22 percent noted that they would either keep their student in remote learning or switch them to remote learning if the district opted to increase the number of in-person learning days.
After the meeting, the Dare County Schools sent out a message informing families that wish to enroll or unenroll in virtual learning that they should complete the Virtual Learning Status Change Form (6-12) by logging into Powerschool. The form is available now, and the deadline is April 7 by 5:00 pm.
During the meeting, Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly told the board that under the four-day face-to-face option, there is a high risk for staff and student quarantines since social distancing cannot be guaranteed in classrooms. He noted, however, there would likely be an influx of students now enrolled in the hybrid model who may opt to finish out the school year virtually. In some schools, he said this could potentially increase the ability to maintain social distancing.
Senate Bill 220, signed into law on March 11 by Governor Roy Cooper, gave local school districts the option of offering in-person instruction to grades 6-12 under Plan A, which requires minimal social distancing. The measure also required that districts operate under Plan A for grades Pre-K-5 and those 6-12 students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan.
Assistant Superintendent Sandy Kinzel offered the board an update on COVID-19 case counts, quarantines and the status of staff and students who have received their COVID-19 vaccination.
Currently, there are five staff members and 99 students quarantined in the district. Of those, 78 are as a result of three students at Kitty Hawk Elementary School who tested positive for the virus. Districtwide, there are a total of five students who are currently COVID-19 positive. There are no staff members who have tested positive.
Kinzel told the board that more than 85 percent of staff has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and that 200 young people ages 16-18 have received a first dose of the vaccine at Dare County Health Department vaccination clinics. Another 70 people in that age group are scheduled to receive their first dose of the vaccine during an April 2 clinic.
Prior to the vote, Farrelly offered a recommendation that whatever option the board choses, the district should stick with the plan for the remainder of the school year.
“I don’t think we need any more change after today,” he said. “After today, everyone needs to have consistency going through June 10. That’s one strong recommendation I would make, is to not come back to the table again unless there is some kind of situation that warrants closure of a school.”