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Granville schools struggle with reopening plans

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Metro Newspaper Service

OXFORD — The Granville County School Board continued to grapple with possible reopening plans Monday, while officials await an announcement on the issue from Gov. Roy Cooper later this week.

The board walked through three reopening scenarios with Granville County Public Schools administrators at the meeting.

The first scenario calls for schools to open with minimal social distancing and enhanced health protocols. Staff is recommending the school board adopt guidelines that would require all middle and high school students and staff wear face masks if schools are allowed to open doors again this fall.

Teachers would still be asked to prepare for blended learning, which is a mix of in-person and online instruction, in case this scenario doesn’t work out.

The second scenario, which staff said is probably the most likely scenario, would open schools at half capacity with moderate social distancing rules. This scenario would include blended learning for all.

In the third scenario, schools will stay closed and all teaching will be virtual.

Alisa McLean, superintendent of Granville County Public Schools, told the board that the second scenario would be the most challenging.

Her staff has been working diligently to come up with ideas for transportation, meal service, cleaning protocols and a wide variety of other issues, she said.

Virtual unpopular with parents

A survey of more than 3,000 parents conducted by the school district found more than half, 55%, would prefer face-to-face learning.

Virtual learning from the child’s base school drew a 28% response. Nearly 16% responded in favor of a blend of in-person and online teaching.

If schools open at half capacity, students would be divided into two groups, and one group would attend in-person classes at a time. The district is looking at different alternating schedules for those groups.

Parents overwhelmingly preferred switching groups every day, opposed to switching groups every week or having one group come in the morning and the second in the afternoon.

A survey of more than 300 district staff found similar results, with 58% of staff preferring in-person learning and most saying they’d prefer to use alternating days during the first part of the school year.

Staff presented a mixed week option as well, with half of students coming to school Monday and Tuesday and the other half attending Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be a remote day for all students, and students would have virtual lessons when not at school.

This option would allow students with specialized learning needs to attend face-to face-classes as needed.

Tech issues discussed

At the meeting, school staff reviewed with the board possible operation changes needed because of the pandemic.

District staff told the board they are looking into options to provide mobile Wi-Fi hotspot options to families who don’t have reliable internet access. The schools are identifying the best places to park buses equipped with Wi-Fi.

The board approved spending $134,000 to buy 339 touchscreen computers for students in kindergarten through second grade. That will give every student in the district a device on a one-to-one basis

Board members also signed off on spending $167,000 for 160 new teacher computers.

On the daily operations side of returning to school, staff recommended requiring personal protective equipment, such as face masks, for all staff and students in grades 6 through 12.

Masks would be strongly recommended for lower grades. The schools also looked into face shields for select staff and using gloves and gowns as needed.

The school district bought more than 300 hand-held digital thermometers for screening people coming onto campuses.

Health, transportation has challenges

Staff said they were concerned about social-emotional support for students, staff and parents. Staff reviewed plans to implement a virtual mental health service for students in need.

Staff also said child nutrition will be a major challenge in reopening. Students at school could get a grab-and-go or box lunch, but the schools would also need to give a meal to students on a different daily schedule.

The district still has concerns getting students to school.

Each school bus seat will be limited to one student or children of the same household. That arrangement would allow up to 24 students on each bus.

Children would also have to pass a screening process before boarding.

The district is reviewing possible bus routes and figuring out how many bus drivers will be needed. Some members of the school board said they were concerned about possible staffing shortages because many of the bus drivers would be duel staff with jobs on campus as well.

The schools will put in place training, protocols and schedules for cleaning campuses and buses.

Plans up in the air

McLean reminded the board the district’s plans are only for getting back to school in the fall, and that the restrictions might not be in place all year.

The board and staff recognized that they are still dealing with what-ifs, and that much of these plans hinge on what the state allows.

Gov. Cooper is expected to make an announcement on reopening schools by Wednesday. The board will meet again at 9 a.m. Thursday to continue the discussion.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board tabled additional budget discussions until the 9 a.m. July 13 work session.