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School board votes 5-2 against asking parents whether they want more in-person instruction


Alamance-Burlington school board members voted 5-2 this week not to survey ABSS parents about whether they want middle and high school students to return to school in-person more than two days a week.

ABSS middle and high school students returned last month for in-person instruction two days per week but are continuing to receive their instruction online for the other three days per week, based on the reopening plans that school board members approved earlier this year.

ABSS elementary school students had also been attending school in-person two days per week but became eligible, starting this week, to return to school for five days per week.

Legislation passed last month by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Roy Cooper requires all 115 N.C. public school systems to provide in-person instruction for K-5 students.

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All ABSS families also have the option to keep their children “remote-only,” as the school system’s administration refers to the online-only option, for the remainder of the current school year, based on the reopening plans previously approved by the school board.

ABSS superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson floated the idea this week of surveying parents of middle and high school students to see if they want their children to return to school in-person more than two days a week. During a brief discussion Tuesday afternoon, he suggested distributing the survey for at least two weeks to get as much feedback as possible.

School board members Ryan Bowden and Sandy Ellington-Graves were quick to get on board, but the idea failed to gain traction with the five other members of the board.

Bowden introduced a motion Tuesday afternoon, which Ellington-Graves seconded, to “explore what the community wants to do about” having middle and high school student come back to school in-person more than the existing two days per week.

Bowden’s motion ultimately failed 2-5, with school board chairman Allison Gant and vice chairman Tony Rose opposed, as were school board members Wayne Beam, Patsy Simpson, and Donna Westbrooks.

There would be approximately 37 instructional days, including five days that are designated for testing, available for in-person instruction, after the survey period closed and the school year ends on June 3, secondary education director Revonda Johnson told school board members this week.

“I’m not sure the effort would be worth it,” Beam said Tuesday afternoon. “If things are working, I think we should stay the way we are.”

Data that Benson presented earlier this year revealed that 55.7 percent of ABSS middle school students had failed at least one class during the first nine-week grading term this year and 34.2 percent of high school students failed at least one class during the first nine weeks.

By comparison, 25.8 percent of ABSS middle school students had failed at least one class during the first nine weeks of the 2019-20 school year; and 24.4 percent of high school students had failed at least one class by that point last year, based on the figures he cited.

The school system’s failure rates for middle and high school students mirror statewide trends, following the statewide school closure that Cooper ordered in March 2020, hoping to slow the spread of COVID-19. In addition to requiring all 115 public school systems to offer at least some in-person instruction, the General Assembly passed additional legislation last week that requires all public school systems to offer a six-week summer school program this year, which will be in-person and fully-funded by the state. Cooper signed that bill on Friday.

“We have had parents call us and say ‘my kid’s really struggling,’” Johnson, the chief secondary officer for ABSS, acknowledged this week.

In the meantime, ABSS will offer “Saturday school,” starting this Saturday, for students who need extra help, Johnson said Tuesday. “It’s not all kids [but just] students who need extra help,” she added. “We are also having some afterschool tutoring; those opportunities are available.”

Some ABSS parents who initially opted to keep their children remote-only when schools reopened last month have since changed their minds, Johnson said. ABSS is notifying those parents that they can have their child’s name put on a waiting list to return to school in-person when space becomes available, which is based on the state’s COVID-19 guidelines for K-12 schools, she said.

Asked this week how many ABSS students are attending school in-person, Johnson said she didn’t have that information with her but “will share that in updates” that school board members typically receive via email every week.

Johnson also did not specify during the work session whether “Saturday school” will be held in-person or online.

During their routine semi-monthly closed session – held at the conclusion of each school board meeting to discuss personnel recommendations and other matters deemed confidential under state law – school board members approved recommendations to have 74 existing employees also serve as “Saturday School tutors,” based on the personnel report that ABSS subsequently furnished to The Alamance News.

The “temporary additional assignments” are scheduled to run from April 17 until Saturday, May 22.

While ABSS typically offers “extra duty” pay for additional assignments that are beyond the position for which employees are hired, the administration hasn’t publicly said whether Saturday School tutors will receive extra duty pay, or how much they might get paid.

See other ABSS coverage: School board member steamed over commissioners’ decision to fund “only” the amount of bonds approved by voters in 2018:


See also newspaper’s EDITORIAL OPINIONS on school board actions:

School board majority: we don’t care what parents think:

Read newspaper’s editorial comments (“School board ingrates”) on school board action, comments:

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