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Other school systems have in-person classes; why doesn’t ABSS?


Most nearby school systems – in Chatham, Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham counties – and more than 75 percent across the state have some or all students back in the classroom

While Alamance-Burlington students are continuing to receive their instruction online – marking the ninth full month of “remote learning” for ABSS since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in March 2020 – 90 of the 115 North Carolina public school systems have resumed holding in-person instruction at some or all grade levels, based on a review of school reopening plans by The Alamance News.

N.C. public school systems were given two options for starting the 2020-21 school year: they could open with “Plan C,” remote-only instruction; or “Plan B,” a mix of online and in-person instruction that requires school buildings and buses to operate at reduced capacity; follow six-foot social distancing guidelines; wear face coverings; and undergo daily COVID-19 symptom screenings, as outlined last summer by Governor Roy Cooper.

Like many of their counterparts around the state, ABSS school board members opted for remote-only instruction through the end of the first nine-week grading period in late October 2020. School board members have since reevaluated their plans for reopening at their semi-monthly meetings, as well as several “special-called” meetings held to hear updates on COVID-19 case rates and other dimensions of the issue, such as parental support for returning to in-person instruction and the availability of ABSS teachers to return to their schools.

Citing ongoing concerns about coronavirus case counts in Alamance County, school board members subsequently voted 4-3 last month to reopen schools on February 1, which would’ve provided a two-week window to adjust their plans in the event of a post-Christmas spike in COVID-19 cases predicted by many public health officials. (School board chairman Allison Gant and board members Wayne Beam and Patsy Simpson voted against reopening on February 1 due to increasing cases of the virus.) However, they subsequently delayed that date; see below.

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Meanwhile, in mid-November, ABSS resumed in-person instruction for approximately 513 ABSS students in the pre-kindergarten and “adapted curriculum” programs, the latter of which includes students with autism and other disabilities and often require assistance with daily functions, according to deputy superintendent Angela Bost. School board members also approved a proposal last fall to resume some workouts, practice sessions, and matches for high school sports, starting in November, with the requirement to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines developed by the N.C. High School Athletics Association.

Earlier this month, school board members voted 5-2 to push the date for reopening ABSS schools to March 1, with the caveat that the board will review Alamance County’s COVID-19 test positivity and hospitalization rates at their February 9 work session. Ryan Bowden, who joined the board in December, voted against further delay, maintaining his stance that schools should’ve reopened February 1. (The two other new school board members, Sandy Ellington-Graves and Donna Westbrooks, protested pushing the date for reopening to March 1 but ultimately voted with the majority.)


Narrow defeat of motion to keep ABSS remote-only for rest of school year
School board vice chairman Tony Rose also voted against reopening March 1, albeit for different reasons: he had introduced a motion to keep ABSS students remote-only for the rest of the school year. He had voted with the majority in December to reopen February 1 but changed his position this month, based, he said, on his and his family members’ recent diagnosis with COVID-19. Rose’s motion earlier this month subsequently failed, 3-4, with Beam and Simpson voting in favor. Bowden; Ellington-Graves; Gant; and Westbrooks voted against Rose’s motion to remain remote-only for the rest of the school year.

Read the newspaper’s editorial views on this issue, also in this week’s edition:

Four of the six public school systems (Chatham, Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham County schools) that border Alamance County have resumed in-person classes for one or more grade levels. The three public schools systems that are located in two bordering counties have continued to remain on “Plan C,” remote-only instruction: Caswell County schools; Orange County schools; and Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools.

The public school systems in Rockingham, Randolph, and Chatham counties have all resumed in-person instruction. Rockingham County schools started the school year in August with remote-only instruction, with a goal of shifting to “Plan B,” the mix of online and in-person instruction, in late September.

However, Rockingham County school board members subsequently opted to move all students back to plan C, remote-only, from November 9 until mid-January. The Rockingham County school system was scheduled to shift to Plan B on January 21, according to the school system.


Chatham County schools accelerates reopening
Chatham County schools also started the school year with remote-only instruction, intending to shift to Plan B after the end of the first nine-week grading period in October.

However, Chatham County school board members have adjusted their reopening plans three times. They voted on September 23 to extend remote instruction through the end of the first semester in January. A week later, on September 29, they voted to move to plan B for students in prekindergarten through second grade, starting in late October, while the other grades would remain remote only. Chatham County school board members also subsequently voted to bring middle school students back in-person, starting December 7, based on a listing of reopening plans compiled by the N.C. School Boards Association (NCSBA).

Guilford County schools, the largest public school system bordering Alamance County, has resumed in-person classes for students in kindergarten through 5th grade; middle and high school students are currently scheduled to return to school in-person in mid-February.
The Caswell County school system is currently scheduled to remain remote-only until next month. Caswell County schools is scheduled to begin a “phased re-entry” for K-8 students, starting February 15, and high school students, starting February 22.

The two school systems in Orange County have adopted separate plans for reopening. Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board members originally planned for students to remain remote-only through January 15, which they later extended to March; they have since agreed that there would be no consideration of resuming in-person classes until “at least April,” according to NCSBA.

Orange County school board members initially agreed to keep students remote-only through the end of the first nine-week grading period but voted in September to bring back students in the preschool and Exceptional Children (EC) programs in late October; all other students would have returned to school in-person “in small groups,” under “Plan B,” at the end of this month. That school board has since voted to delay bringing back students in grades two through 12 until late March, which is the end of the second nine-week grading period of the second (spring) semester. The plan to return in late March is contingent upon the provision of air purifiers; space for school meals to be served to students outside their classrooms; and regular testing for COVID-19, according to the NCSBA.

Durham public schools to stay remote-only for the rest of the school year
In nearby Durham County, school board members voted earlier this month to keep Durham public schools remote-only for the rest of the 2020-21 school year.

Other N.C. public school systems had been remote-only but were planning to resume in-person instruction either this week or next, based on reopening plans compiled by NCSBA.
The following 25 public school systems are continuing to remain on Plan C (dates on which remote-only instruction is scheduled to end appear in parentheses):
· Alamance-Burlington school system (3/1 and 3/8);
· Asheville city schools (3/16);
· Bertie County schools (3/11);
· Bladen County schools (2/15);
· Buncombe County schools (2/12);
· Caswell County schools (3/15);
· Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools (April 2021);
· Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools (2/15 and 2/22);
· Cumberland County schools (3/25);
· Dare County schools (3/18);
· Durham County schools (rest of the school year);
· Granville County schools (3/15);
· Lexington city schools (3/11);
· Kannapolis city schools (2/15);
· Montgomery County schools (3/7);
· Nash County schools (3/22);
· Northampton County schools (3/10 and 3/26);
· Orange County schools (3/26 for grades 2-12);
· Roanoke Rapids graded school district (3/17);
· Robeson County schools (2/16);
· Scotland County schools (2/22);
· Thomasville city schools (3/5);
· Vance County schools (no date specified);
· Wake County schools (mid-February);
· Weldon city schools (no date specified).

Four ABSS schools continue to be listed as having active COVID-19 clusters, based on a statewide report that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) releases every Tuesday and Friday and identifies K-12 schools and daycare centers in which five or more cases of the virus are confirmed over a 14-day period.

A cluster of six cases was reported at Southern High School earlier this month. In December, clusters were reported at South Graham, E.M. Yoder, and Highland Elementary schools, all of which are listed as active clusters on the monitoring report that NCDHHS releases every Tuesday and Friday.

No clusters have been reported at three of the bordering public school systems that have reopened, based on the latest report from NCDHHS. One cluster has been reported at a private school in Guilford County, according to the monitoring report released Tuesday.

By comparison, all of the private schools in Alamance County reopened for the 2020-21 school year with in-person classes; none had been identified as having clusters of COVID-19 as of press time, based on the state’s semi-weekly report.

The NCSBA is a professional organization that provides training and other services for school boards across North Carolina.

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