By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke County Schools plan to reopen this fall on a hybrid schedule that will see students attending in-person classes two days a week, with online-only learning an alternative option for local families.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that the state would direct public schools to reopen under the second of three possible plans for the 2020-2021 school year.
“We know schools will look a lot different this year. They have to in order to be safe and effective,” Cooper said in a press conference.
The Hoke County Board of Education also voted Tuesday to adopt the same plan, after surveying parents and teachers to get their input.
Under the “plan b” option, students will be split into two groups. The first group will attend in-person classes on Monday and Wednesday, and the second group will attend in-person classes on Tuesday and Thursday. All students will attend online-only classes on Fridays, and on the days in which they are not physically in school.
There will be other changes to the school day. Face coverings will be required for all students and teachers from kindergarten to high school. The state will provide a supply of them to public schools, Cooper said in a live-streamed press conference.
Students will have their temperature checked each morning, with an area set aside to isolate any student who arrives at school with symptoms of illness. Schools will build in more time throughout the day so students can practice frequent hand washing.
School systems must also clean classrooms and other areas, and implement social distancing. In Hoke County, students will likely eat lunch in their classrooms instead of in the cafeteria. Administrators will also take other actions to limit large groups, such as avoiding assemblies and possibly making hallways one-way.
However, students in Hoke County will not have to attend in-person classes if their family does not want them to. If families prefer, they can sign their child up to attend an online-only remote learning academy provided through Hoke County Schools.
The school system plans to put on its website an opportunity for parents to register their child for the online-only option. The online-only classes will be of the same rigor and schedule as face-to-face learning, officials said in the adopted plan.
Hoke Schools Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson confirmed the school board’s decision. The board voted on the plan Tuesday morning, and the governor announced the same plan Tuesday afternoon.
“I did ask the Board of Education to approve plan b contingent on what the governor would say today, and they did that. We think through the plan b that we can address the concerns of all parents that they addressed to us through surveys,” Williamson said.
All teachers will be in the school buildings Monday through Friday, even those who are teaching online classes, the superintendent said.
Additionally, the school system can choose to change to the online-only “plan c” option if local officials decide it’s needed.
“If the metrics change and we continue to spike up, that may be an option,” Williamson said.
Cooper also confirmed in a press conference that school districts could choose a more restrictive option if local leaders felt that was best for their community. If the numbers of COVID-19 cases continue going up, things could change state-wide, too, the governor said.
“The start of school is a month away for most of our children, and we know a lot can happen with the virus in that time. If trends spike then North Carolina will need to move to all remote learning,” Cooper said.
The governor said the decision came after lengthy collaboration with school superintendents, state school officials and health experts.
If Hoke parents want to see what a typical classroom setup will look like this fall, the schools plan to have East Hoke Middle set up with an example of it. Families can drop by East Hoke Middle starting next Monday, as long as they are wearing a mask, to view the setup.
“Our priority is the safety and well being of our students and all our employees,” Williamson said.
Cooper additionally continued to keep the state in the “phase two” of a planned three-phase opening, as the number of cases across North Carolina continued to grow. There were more than 1,900 new cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday across all of North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. So far, there have been more than 1,550 deaths in North Carolina – including four people from Hoke County – believed to be associated with the virus.
Hoke was up to 480 total known cases of the virus this week, since the first identified local case on March 18. Over 200 of those people are believed to have recovered. The Hoke County Health Department continues working to offer testing and conduct contact tracing.
Hoke County Schools’ reopening plan guidebook is online at https://www.hcs.k12.nc.us/working-together-for-re-entry.