North Carolina public school leaders are anticipating more information from the state on Wednesday about the reopening of school buildings. Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools is among many districts struggling with how they will come up with the extra money needed to make that happen.
Earlier this month, state officials released new health guidelines for school systems to help minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19. They also listed three possible scenarios for reopening. Many urban districts are leaning towards what's called Plan B, which involves moderate social distancing.
It requires that only 50 percent of students be physically present at any given time.
School officials are also trying to figure out the best way to refit classrooms, conduct health screenings, and put in place other requirements.
“What keeps me up at night is if someone contacts the virus and dies. That is an overburdening feeling,” says Malishai “Shai” Woodbury, chair of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.
WS/FC Schools is considering a couple of possibilities. One is having students in grades Pre-K through 3 attend in-person classes daily at their assigned school to mitigate losses in literacy and other early learning skills. Fourth through 12th-grade students would attend in-person classes every other week and be broken up into cohorts.
Woodbury says the school board is working together to find the best solution, but will be able to move forward when they get more information from the state this week. She says one of the biggest challenges right now is transportation.
“If we reenter schools or reopen schools in any scenario that we have before us and keep with a choice model, that's going to cost us at least an additional $35 million to $45 million conservatively,” says Woodbury.
She says all of this could impact choice options for some families.
“In this environment, transporting children through the choice option becomes truly not an option, if we're being transparent with the community, unless parents have their own transportation.”
The district is also trying to address equity issues with remote learning and during the reopening process. Superintendent Angela Hairston has created what Woodbury calls care teams to serve areas. Staff will be on the ground trying to accommodate parents and students with what they need, as well as provide human service and academic support.
The school system is also working with the city and local leaders to make sure that all of the housing units in Piedmont Circle and Cleveland Homes have Wi-Fi access.
“One of the ways that we are going to try to close this equity gap is by being intentional with our community and business partnerships,” says Woodbury.
The board of education says it welcomes public input on the issue. It plans to make a decision on its official reentry plan sometime in July.
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