Thursday, 10 December 2020 18:33

Richmond County Schools returning to remote learning next week, through January

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Superintendent Dr. Jeff Maples explains the decision to return to remote learning during a Board of Education meeting Thursday. Superintendent Dr. Jeff Maples explains the decision to return to remote learning during a Board of Education meeting Thursday. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — All Richmond County public school students will have to finish out the last week of the semester from home, the Board of Education decided Thursday.

In a unanimous decision, the board voted to have students — including exceptional children — start remote learning on Monday, Dec. 14, which will last until at least Jan. 29.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff Maples said he had wanted those who have returned to finish out the year in class, but with a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, school leaders thought remote learning was the best decision.

The Richmond County Health Department has reported 339 new cases so far this month.

From Dec. 1-10, the number of children who have tested positive rose from 286 to 321.

Richmond County Schools has recorded 193 school-related cases since it began keeping track earlier this year: 50 school staff; nine from central services; 39 traditional (in-class) students; and 95 virtual students.

“I know, as you know, that no plan is perfect unless our kids are in school,” Maples said. But I think it’s time for us to pause … and make sure our students are safe.”

Under the new plan, teachers would still work from the school buildings.

Board Member Daryl Mason suggested that teachers be able to work from home.

He said there are some teachers who are going out into the community and not abiding by state regulations, which puts their cohorts at risk.

Maples said it would be a “big challenge (for the teachers) to deliver successful remote learning” from home, since the technology is already in the classrooms.

He said teachers dealt with instructing from home last spring when Gov. Roy Cooper closed schools and that the situation is better now that they’re in the schools.

“I think you will have to trust us,” he assured Mason.

Board Member Joe Richardson, who is admittedly no fan of virtual education, supported the decision, adding that the teachers are to be commended, as some have had to teach students both in class and online.

Maples added that the system would support teachers with kids of their own by helping them out with daycare.

Dr. Kate Smith, executive director of curriculum and learning, assured Board Member Bobbie Sue Ormsby that elementary and exceptional students who have been in class were trained for remote learning.

Ormsby said she’s received many calls from parents who said their children didn’t know how to do it.

“We made sure that our principals and our teachers knew that, at any moment, we could go fully remote, so you want to make sure all those face-to-face students are prepared and ready to be able to (go remote,),” Smith said.

Ormsby’s other question was if there were enough computers for all the students, which Maples confirmed.

According to a press release from the school system: "All high school EOC in-person testing for Biology, Math 1, Math 3, and English II as mandated by the North Carolina Department of Instruction will be postponed until second semester. All CTE state assessments that require in-person administration will also be postponed until second  semester."

Maples said virtual exams will continue as scheduled.

Prior to the meeting, the board heard from Health and Human Services Director Dr. Tommy Jarrell, who gave the members an update on current COVID-19 statistics.

The board also voted to move its first meeting of the year to Jan. 12 so there would be enough data to decide what to do starting in February.