It turns out that school’s not out forever, after all – at least not this year for the more than 3,400 Alamance-Burlington students who will return to their schools, in-person for five days per week, later this month.
Summer school will start for ABSS on June 28 and end on August 5, giving students who participate about three weeks off before the new school year starts on August 23. Last Thursday was the final day of the 2020-21 school year for ABSS students.
ABSS secondary education director Revonda Johnson told The Alamance News Tuesday afternoon that 1,621 middle and high school students will return for summer school later this month. She said her counterpart, Dr. Jean Maness, director of elementary education for ABSS, has indicated that 1,800 elementary school students are returning for summer school.
ABSS superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson told school board members during their latest work session Tuesday afternoon that all students will return for summer school under “Plan A,” which calls for in-person instruction five days per week, based on the state’s Covid-19 guidelines for K-12 education, which eliminates requirements for social distancing.
The General Assembly codified the requirement to offer five days per week of in-person instruction in legislation that passed the state house and state senate on unanimous votes earlier this year. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill into law on April 9. The “Summer Learning Choice for NC Families” bill called for all 115 N.C. public school systems to offer in-person instruction, five days per week, this summer to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade who have been identified as at-risk of failing a grade during the 2020-21 school year.
The now-ratified state law does not make it mandatory for public school students to participate in summer school. State legislators had previously expressed support for the legislation, based on dire reports about student performance they’ve heard, multiple news outlets throughout the state reported.
By comparison, performance data that ABSS officials presented around the same time revealed that 55.7 percent of the school system’s middle school students and 34.2 percent of ABSS high school students had failed at least one class during the first nine-week grading period for the 2020-21 school year.
Failure rates at the middle school level had increased by 29.9 percentage points from 2019-20, when 25.8 percent of ABSS middle school students failed at least one class during the first nine weeks. Failure rates among ABSS high school students increased by 9.8 percentage points from the same period in the 2019-20 school year, when 24.4 percent of high school students had failed at least one class during the first nine weeks, according to figures that ABSS superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson presented to school board members in December 2020. Failure rates for both the middle and high school students mirrored rates reported by numerous N.C. public school systems for the first nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year.
During a discussion with the General Assembly’s K-12 education oversight committee, David Stegall, deputy superintendent of innovation at the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), said in late December that approximately 19 percent of the state’s public school students weren’t participating in any classes, either online or in-person.
Scores of ABSS parents had complained to school board members since the 2020-21 school year began last August about the obstacles their children were encountering with online instruction, which ranged from trouble concentrating to the long hours of screen time that even young children were required to log.
ABSS elementary school students returned to school in-person, five days a week, in early April; the middle and high school students returned in early March for in-person classes, while continuing to receive their instruction online during the other three schooldays.
“Our intention is to move to Plan A for our secondary students for summer school,” but the number of middle and high school students will be limited, Benson told school board members Tuesday afternoon.
ABSS students who are scheduled to move into high school this fall will attend summer school at their middle schools, Johnson said during the work session. State mandates require school systems to offer summer school to K-8 students who are most at-risk of failing, and then to other students, she told school board member Patsy Simpson, who said a parent had called her, complaining that her child hadn’t been selected for the summer school program.
“Right now, we have 902 middle school students [who] will be attending summer school, so we are maximizing that potential [while] still trying to provide some spacing.”
Johnson told the newspaper after the work session that the “spacing” she referenced is three-foot social distancing guidelines that ABSS middle and high school students will be asked to observe as an extra precaution against Covid-19. Johnson emphasized that her department is working to develop plans that will make instruction fun, rather than tedious, for the middle and high school students, and also give students opportunities to move around, rather than simply sitting in their classrooms all day.
The secondary education director also volunteered that she’d obtained the contact information for the parent that Simpson had mentioned, telling the newspaper that student “is in” the summer school program.
Meals and bus transportation will be provided for students throughout the duration of summer school, other ABSS officials confirmed for the newspaper Tuesday.
State legislative leaders have said that the state will use its share of federal stimulus money for Covid-19 to fully fund the costs to offer summer school in every N.C. public school system.
ABSS public information officer Jenny Faulkner subsequently confirmed for the newspaper that the school system has previously offered a summer reading camp for K-3 students, under the state’s “Read to Achieve” legislation that took effect in 2013. ABSS also typically offers credit recovery for high school students, which previously consisted of a combination of online and in-person instruction, Faulkner said. She said this is the first year that credit recovery will be offered in-person, five days per week, for high school students who need it.
The estimated total of 3,421 ABSS students who plan to attend summer school represent approximately 16 percent of the 21,742 students who were enrolled in ABSS schools at the end of the first month of the 2020-21 school year. ABSS officials haven’t said how this year’s preliminary enrollment figures for summer school compare to those for previous years.