The Cumberland County Board of Education on Tuesday is scheduled to consider an administrative recommendation to delay the resumption of in-person instruction and start the second semester of the traditional school calendar with three days of virtual instruction.
The board has scheduled a special meeting for 8:30 a.m. at the Cumberland County Schools Educational Resource Center at 396 Elementary Drive.
Students have been out of school for about two weeks for winter break.
Teachers worked Monday and will work again Tuesday before students are scheduled to return to class Wednesday.
Under the proposal, classes Wednesday through Friday of this week would be all-virtual instruction.
School officials said they were concerned that the recent high number of COVID-19 cases may impact the number of staff at schools.
“Dr. Connelly was concerned over the holidays (because) he was hearing from people – principals and others – that they were worried about having enough staff to start school on Monday. Not knowing how much of the staff would be sick or not,” Greg West said of Marvin Connelly Jr., the superintendent of Cumberland County Schools. “So he is considering the idea of just taking this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and going virtual – just those three days – and delaying the start of in-person until a week from today or Monday.”
West is chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Education.
The delay in in-person instruction is meant to “give us some time for anybody who’s going to be asymptomatic for it to show up from New Year’s,” West said.
Monday, the 10th, is 16 days from Christmas and 11 days from New Year’s.
“So, his thought was,” West added, “if we’re not certain if we’re going to be able to properly staff all the classrooms, why not go virtual for the first three days and buy us some time and separation from holiday events to know who’s going to be able to show up and not. That’s as simple as it was.”
Year-round students remain on break and are not impacted by the return to school on Wednesday. West said school officials “weren’t as concerned about the impact of the holiday spike” on those students since they return to classes at a later date.
Schools spokesman Lindsay Whitley said Monday that all the staff in the system’s 87 schools were given a survey to complete. Those results are expected to be shared with the board Tuesday morning before a possible vote on whether to go virtual for the first three days.
The survey asked if staff members would be able to be in attendance for work Wednesday through Friday, Whitley said. "We'll learn whether they have been impacted by COVID protocol. Basically to learn if we have coverage for classes. How much of the workforce is impacted by COVID protocols?"
Connelly will share the survey results with the board before giving his recommendation. The nine-member board will then be able to make a decision on how to move forward.
"A final decision has not been made," Whitley said. "They'll be looking at the data and be able to make a recommendation."
West said, “We’ll hear from the superintendent and get some updated numbers. It will be on Facebook in the morning.”
According to West, the state legislature has prohibited across-the-board virtual instruction unless emergency reasons emerge that require it to be done.
“Our hands are kind of tied out of Raleigh that we can’t do it but for five days out of the semester,” he said. “They put some protections in place to keep districts from doing it across the board.”
West called making sound decisions on virtual versus in-person student instruction and the policy on face masks “the most difficult thing I’ve done in 20 years of being on the board. And that’s probably true of every administrator and every person in education, frankly. Just because people are so passionate on both sides of the issue, and we’re having to make it up as we go because we’ve never been in a pandemic or a crisis like this before.
“So, the whole world was making stuff up, and it was hard to know what to believe, what's overkill and what’s not enough," West said. "So, hopefully we’ve erred on the side of safety, and I think we have. We’re done pretty well, all things considered. It’s been difficult but hopefully we’re getting better with the science and the data. We’ve got some history now.”
Currently, face masks are mandatory in the school system. Each month, the board is required by the state to vote on making masks mandatory or optional.
During its next scheduled regular meeting on Jan. 11, the school board will again vote on the mask policy for the ensuing 30 days.
“The way it’s going,” said West, “I expect that to stay in place. But right now masks are still required in our buildings.”
In other business, the board also on Tuesday will meet in closed session to consult with its attorney and preserve the attorney-client privilege, according to a news release.
Any votes will be done in open session, West said.
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.