By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
Returning to class this fall will be unlike any previous school year for Hoke County students, but how deep the changes go will depend on how well the state can slow the spread of COVID-19 between now and then.
The North Carolina Board of Education directed public school systems to come up with plans for three possible scenarios: a full reopening, a partial reopening and continued virtual learning only. The Hoke County Board of Education prepared and reviewed its reopening plans Tuesday during a virtual meeting.
“As you know, there continues to be concerns and questions related to how schools plan to reopen in August 2020. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hoke County Schools has been working steadily to make decisions that reflect our priority of the health and safety of the students, employees, family and the communities we serve,” Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson wrote in the 70-page plan.
The first option is the least restrictive, with minimal social distancing. Schools would be open and all students could be in school at the same time. Teachers could resume traditional instruction in the classroom, with preparation for “blended” in-person and virtual learning. Students would have to stay six feet apart in places where they congregate in large groups, such as hallways and reception areas.
Under the least restrictive plan, students and teachers could still expect to see some changes to the school day.
Students would be required to wear masks and would be subject to temperature screenings. Cafeterias would be closed for full capacity, and staff could deliver meals to classrooms or outside areas. The food would be individually packaged.
Recess could be staggered in small groups. Assemblies might be for small groups, or virtual only.
The second, more moderately restrictive plan would allow schools to reopen for in-person learning, but require stricter social distancing. Students would attend in-person classes only two days a week. Half of students would attend class on Monday and Wednesday, and half would attend face-to-face classes on Tuesday and Thursday.
All students would receive online instruction on the days not spent in the classroom. Fridays would be virtual instruction only for all students.
The more moderate restrictions would also force schools to revise how they handle transportation, bus routes and staffing. High-risk or homebound students could receive separate services as needed on a case-by-case basis.
The third, most restrictive option would continue to keep school buildings closed to students. Teachers would provide online instruction only. However, it wouldn’t be the same as in the spring, according to the plan.
“The expectations and rigor will mirror face-to-face instruction, and virtual students will have a full school day Monday-Friday and be required to participate in face-to-face synchronous learning,” school documents stated.
An online only school semester would involve daily attendance, with grades given on assignments, assessments and class participation. Teachers would document weekly student communication check-ins on a district-provided communication log.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, school leaders won’t know until later this summer which option is most likely for the fall. That’s why state education officials instructed public schools to have plans available for any of the possibilities.
The school system plans to consider the safety and wellness of students and employees, first and foremost, and respond to the needs of vulnerable and high needs populations, its plan stated. The school district will need to be adaptable and flexible with the ability to move throughout the academic year from one reopening plan to another, based on public health needs. Officials plan to maintain “consistent communication with students, families and employees to ensure respect and success within the evolving situation.”
Hoke Schools administrators developed the plan to comply with the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) released June 8. The Hoke County Board of Education reviewed the plan at a called meeting Tuesday.