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Why one school district chose plan B for the return to school

Now that Gov. Roy Cooper has made his decision about schools reopening in the fall, individual districts are faced with a question: do they go with plan B, or go fully remote through plan C? Some of the larger school districts, like Wake, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and New Hanover, have already opted to do a remote plan for the first nine weeks, but many other districts are trying to figure out how they can make plan B work.

That’s exactly what Greene County Schools Superintendent Patrick Miller tried to do with his school board on Monday, July 27.

He laid out a proposal for modified face-to-face instruction, and it has a few steps:

  • All current students are automatically enrolled in face-to-face instruction but have the option to enroll in the Greene County Virtual Academy. As of the meeting on Monday, 34% of families intended to choose the virtual option.
  • Students doing face-to-face instruction will be placed into two tracks, divided by their last names.
  • During the first week of school, half of Track One will meet on Monday and the other half will meet on Tuesday. The same thing goes for Track Two on Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday will be a remote day for all students.
  • For the following weeks, Track One and Track Two will alternate each week between in-person and remote instruction.

Miller said he will be working with the county health director to monitor cases, and the district could revert to plan C if necessary. The Board approved the modified plan B unanimously.

You can read the full plan here, along with more information about what instruction and safety measures will look like.

“I know it’s going to be difficult,” Board Chair Pat Adams said following the vote. “We’ve not been here before.”

Two community members spoke during the public comment period at the start of the meeting, and they were skeptical of allowing students to come back to school.

“What gives Greene County the upper edge or the knowledge to go with in-person over the counties such as all these counties?” said Greene County NAACP President Benjamin Lanier, referencing Wake, Durham, and New Hanover counties adopting remote instruction. “What makes us think that we can do something that they decided that they can’t do?”

He then asked the Board a question: “The Board members and the superintendent, do you have a child or a grandchild? If so, are they going back to school or are they going to go to the virtual academy?”

Following the Board’s approval of their plan, Miller provided an answer.

“I have a son at Greene Central (High School) and he is planning to return for face-to-face learning. I know you asked that question, and I feel like I owe you that answer,” he said. “I also have a wife who is a teacher, and she’s also planning to return to the classroom.”

After the meeting, Lanier said he still wasn’t satisfied. He said COVID-19 cases will increase when school starts, and that the Board is “gambling with people’s lives.” As of July 28 at noon, Greene County has had 283 confirmed COVID-19 cases and three deaths.

So, why did Greene County Schools decide to go with Plan B, which calls for moderate restrictions and social distancing? Miller said there were two main reasons.

He said the district surveyed all of its families and heard responses from about 50% of them. Of the people who responded, 60% said they wanted at least some face-to-face instruction.

“Unfortunately none of the two-thirds of the people who want face-to-face came and commented tonight,” he said.

He said because of this response, the district has had to shift the way it operates to be more customer service oriented. He said he’s talked to many parents during this period, and they tell him that their kids need the structure that school provides or they may not learn as well online. Some parents were also concerned about child care if they go back to work and school is online.

Another reason to opt for plan B was the district’s staff.

“I just don’t know what the options would be. I don’t think in my conversations, I’ve not heard a definitive answer as to what you do with bus drivers, teachers assistants, and those folks if you’re in a full (plan) C situation,” Miller said in an interview on Tuesday.

And though there aren’t many clear answers for him or the Board, he has an idea of what he hopes to see this year.

“The plans that we’ve laid out, if we can pull them off and not go bankrupt in the process and keep everybody safe, then that will be a major win,” Miller said.

Editor’s note: Superintendent Patrick Miller is a member of EducationNC’s Board of Directors. Senior Reporter Alex Granados contributed reporting.

Anna Pogarcic

Anna Pogarcic is the Director of Content for EducationNC.