Hoke students back in classrooms starting Monday

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke County Schools will resume in-person classes Monday, after starting off the first six weeks of 2021 in remote-only learning due to the pandemic.

Students and teachers in K-12 will go back on the Plan B schedule beginning February 22. Students will attend class in person two days a week, either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday. The other three days a week, students will attend online-only learning.

The staggered schedule limits the number of students on each school campus at a time, allowing more space for social distancing precautions. The schools will also resume other safety protocols such as temperature checks, mandatory mask-wearing and frequent disinfection of classrooms and public spaces in school buildings.

Families who don’t want to send their child back to in-person lessons have the option of keeping their kids at home on Plan C, remote learning only.

The school system announced in January that it would reopen doors to students this month, after a delay due to a post-holiday spike in the community spread of COVID-19. The pandemic numbers are now in decline across the state. Teachers and school staff, and childcare workers will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting February 24.

Most school districts in Hoke’s neighboring counties are either open for some level of in-person learning, or have plans to reopen within the next few weeks.

Public Schools of Robeson County will reopen for in-person learning no later than March 1, according to the school district’s website. Cumberland County Schools will reopen traditional classrooms March 15 on a Plan B schedule. Scotland County Schools will reopen on a Plan B schedule March 1 for grades K-5 and March 8 for grades 6-12.

Two nearby districts are already operating in-person classes. Moore County Schools opened January 5 on a Plan A schedule for K-5 students, and on a Plan B schedule for students in grades 6-12. Richmond County Schools resumed an in-person schedule February 1.

Some state legislators have stepped up the pressure for school districts to reopen for in-person classes, citing issues such as technical difficulties proving to be a barrier to online learning; an inability to fully provide exceptional children’s programs without face-to-face support; and concerns over long-term impacts to children’s future success.

North Carolina State Senate Bill 37 proposes to require all public schools K-12 to offer in-person learning. The bill was co-sponsored by more than 20 state senators, including Sen. Ben Clark, a Democrat representing Hoke and Cumberland counties.

The bill passed a vote in the state Senate, but stalled out. Further action could be coming this week.

If the bill passes as currently drafted, it’s unlikely to affect Hoke County Schools’ reopening plans. The bill states that school districts would have 15 days from the bill becoming law to reopen. If approved this week, the requirement to reopen won’t take effect until two weeks after Hoke schools resume in-person classes this coming Monday.

The bill additionally noted that school districts would have the flexibility to make accommodations for teachers who are at high risk of serious illness from coronavirus.

Gov. Roy Cooper also joined forces last week with the State Board of Education, and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, in calling for schools to offer in-person instruction again. Cooper and Cohen cited research showing that schoolchildren, especially young children, are less likely to spread the illness in school settings. Children who did catch the virus were more likely to have caught it outside of a school building.

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