Tuesday, 26 January 2021 18:40

Richmond County students to return to class next week

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Richmond County School Board member Daryl Mason objects to students returning to class during Tuesday's meeting. Mason and Ronald Tillman were the only two to vote against the plan. Richmond County School Board member Daryl Mason objects to students returning to class during Tuesday's meeting. Mason and Ronald Tillman were the only two to vote against the plan. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — Students in Richmond County are heading back to the classroom — if the parents opt to let them — next week.

The Richmond County Board of Education voted 5-2 Tuesday to return to the schedule schools were on prior to the board’s decision in late December to go virtual for a month due to an increase in positive COVID-19 infections.

Families will still have the opportunity to opt for virtual learning if they don’t feel safe.

The decision was made following a presentation by Dr. Wendy Jordan, director of Student Services.

While there has been an average of 33.6 cases each day this month, according to the Richmond County Health Department, Jordan said the percentage of positive cases has decreased since the holidays — spiking at 15.4% the first week of the month and dropping to 9.5% within the past week.

As of Jan. 25, Jordan said that only 0.3% of students and 1.6% of school staff were positive. She added that although 61 staff members (5.5%) were absent Monday due to exposure, the school system could still operate normally.

“This pandemic has been hard for all of us and we still have a ways to go, but I feel with the protocols that we have in place, we can mitigate these risks for our students’ and staff’s safe return,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff Maples said. “I believe our schools are a safe place for students, where they have teachers, support staff, counselors, social workers, administrators and coaches that not only support their academic needs, but also support their social and emotional needs.

Board Chairman Wiley Mabe said parents and grandparents he’s spoken with are “anxious to get children back in school.”

Mabe said there are childcare issues with younger students and elementary and middle school students are having a tough time without in-person instruction.

“This is the most I’ve been in contact with folks in a long time, urging us to open schools back up,” Mabe said. “And they want to know right now if we’re going to open up Monday morning so they can be ready.”

Board member Daryl Mason was one of the two opposed to sending students back, citing the continued number of daily cases, staff members being out and the Richmond Senior High School varsity basketball team being quarantined.

Board member Ronald Tillman — who, along with Jerry Etheridge joined the meeting remotely — also opposed the action and said he’d rather wait another month to see if numbers drop even more, as well as get teachers vaccinated.

With the schedule, all students will have remote learning on Wednesdays. Elementary students will attend every day but Wednesday and middle schoolers will split the week by cohort. High School students will start regular classes following exams. (See schedule below.)

Board Member Pat Campbell, who was in favor of students returning, did have an issue with high school students being faced with state exams on the day they return.

“Our principals assure us that the teachers are comfortable with that week,” said Dr. Kate Smith, executive director of curriculum and learning.

“But the teachers are not the ones taking the tests, the students are taking the tests,” Campbell replied. “They’re the ones that need to be comfortable with taking a test when it counts 20 percent (of their grade).”

Maples said the schools did have some flexibility, but there are “a lot of things to consider,” including having to split students into groups so they can be spread out enough during testing.

Durham County Schools will not be returning this semester, according to multiple media outlets.

(Note: Richmond County Schools sent a corrected graphic for the school schedule and it was replaced 12:03 p.m. 1-27-21)

Last modified on Wednesday, 27 January 2021 12:04