HCS modifies reopening plan. It could change again Aug. 17

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The Harnett County Schools Board of Education approved a modified preliminary reopening plan Monday night for the upcoming semester.

By a 4-1 vote, board members decided to start all classes remotely when school begins Aug. 17 with plans to phase in classroom instruction over a few weeks. Under the current proposal, elementary and middle schools will start opening campuses on Aug. 24 with high schools to follow a week later.

“We will start remote and the ones that want to come [to campus] will start on those dates,” HCS Board of Education Chairman Eddie Jaggers said. “Everybody would be remote that first week.”

HCS elected last month to implement a combination of remote and in-class instruction for the start of the 2020 year during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan offered parents the choice of either returning to classrooms or staying home once school starts. Monday’s vote allowed HCS staff more time to get ready for a return to campus life.

Brookie Ferguson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, provided survey results from parents that showed a nearly even split between going back to school or continuing remote instruction.

A similar survey showed a majority of teachers and staff preferred either delaying a return to classrooms or going online only. Less than 30% of teachers and staff expressed interest in returning to campuses when school resumes in less than two weeks. The survey reached out to 1,800 HCS staff members.

“Basically, 73% want to have some type of delay to the beginning of school,” HCS Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming said. “That doesn’t mean they want [remote only]. In fact, a majority was [a combination].”

Board member Vivian Bennett voted against her colleagues on reopening, citing concern for teachers who fear their health and safety is in jeopardy by bringing back in-person learning too soon.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions about this plan, even though we have deviated a little bit to let them come in later,” said Bennett. “I think the plan staff presented us is a good one, but I still know what a great impact it could have on the lives of families and our staff with our on-campus option. I’m leaning toward virtual learning until we know how this virus is going. I don’t know how I could put [a] teacher into a classroom if they’re not comfortable with it.”

Monday night’s meeting attracted a lot of attention from the general public as numerous people signed up to speak. Callers presented varying viewpoints regarding reopening schools, displaying the sharp divide between differing factions.

While the vote created a path moving forward, Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision on Friday will play a huge role in determining how concrete any plans really are. Cooper is expected to announce whether the state will enter Phase 3 of its reopening initiative.

“It’s obvious this is going to be a logistical nightmare,” HCS board member Bill Morris said. “The two week staggered start is probably going to be the best thing for our staff.”

Should Cooper once again extend Phase 2, the HCS Reopening Task Force will have to go back and account for current guidelines.

“If we don’t enter Phase 3, it’s hard to get our staff to come back to school or into our offices,” said Fleming. “We don’t know yet if the governor is going to do that.”

HCS scheduled another meeting on Aug. 17 where board members can assess the situation and decide if any changes need to be made moving forward. Another consideration discussed by the board centered around beginning the staggered start to the school year on Sept. 9, after the Labor Day holiday.

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

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