Extension of Phase 2 may change school plans

‘We probably need to be in Phase 3 before teachers go back to school,’ superintendent says

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When the Harnett County Board of Education approved its reopening plan earlier this week, there was an understanding that circumstances could change.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision not to change anything on Wednesday created such a circumstance.

Cooper announced that the state would not move into its next phase of reopening for at least another five weeks, extending the safer-at-home directive past the expected date where students would return to school.

The Board of Education on Monday voted 4-1 to start a staggered reopening of campuses on Aug. 24, following a state mandated week of remote learning. According to the approved plan, elementary and middle school students return first, followed by high students coming back to campus on Aug. 31.

Cooper’s announcement could change or at least delay that approach.

“I think it’s difficult for teachers to go back in school,” Harnett County Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming said. “We probably need to be in Phase 3 before teachers go back to school. I’m not saying they can’t go back in Phase 2, but as I recall the governor was very adamant that Phase 2 was safer-at-home. I don’t know if we need our teachers in the building if it is indeed safer at home, according to the governor.”

Another option presented at Monday’s meeting focused on reopening schools following the Labor Day holiday. Board member Bill Morris said the district expects some speed bumps along the way and is prepared to adjust if necessary.

“That’s one of the options we discussed,” Morris said. “If we have issues getting everybody where they need to be, we’re going to have to fall back to Sept. 9.”

Administrators, Morris said, won’t know what the issues are until the thousands of teachers and students start returning.

“By the 17th, staff will have had a chance to be in this a little longer,” said Morris. “Once we get into giving kids their computers and the little ones are back in school, we’ll be able to identify these unforeseen problems. We’re going to have to make adjustments. You’re talking about, between staff and everybody, 25,000 people with their own set of priorities and their own set of conditions. All of that will have to be addressed and there’s no way to identify all of it until we get them in the building and see what’s happening.”

Fleming said HCS planned for the unexpected eventuality, which is why both remote and in-class instruction were offered to parents.

“I have been telling the board that the governor gave us an option for Plan B, which we did,” Fleming said. “The name of plan B is safer at home so our teachers have to come back into the school building to prepare. I don’t know that it complicates it. That’s a function of the board of education to determine calendar changes and start dates.”

With less than two weeks to go before the start of the school year, HCS learned to expect the unexpected.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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