Thursday, 25 March 2021 19:39

Richmond County School Board votes to combine cohorts, keep Wednesdays virtual

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School Board member Daryl Mason tells other members during Thursday's meeting that going to five days per week now would kill teacher morale. School Board member Daryl Mason tells other members during Thursday's meeting that going to five days per week now would kill teacher morale. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — More Richmond County students will be able to learn in the classroom more often but will still have one day of virtual instruction.

The Richmond County Board of Education on Thursday unanimously voted to combine the cohorts in the upper grades and have students return to classes four days a week and keep Wednesday as an online day.

The decision came after none of the School Board members voted to approve the plan of returning to five days a week as proposed by system administrators.

Dr. Kate Smith, executive director of curriculum and learning, recommended the failed plan, which was developed after Gov. Roy Cooper and state legislators came to an agreement to reopen schools across the state.

Recent guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also decreased the social distancing requirement from 6 feet to 3 feet.

While students can be closer together, Smith said that most classrooms will allow for the 6 feet of distancing. She added that teachers will remain 6 feet away from students.

Richmond County was already operating with students in the middle schools and high school split into two cohorts, each attending two days a week. Families also have the option to keep their kids learning from home.

Both Smith and Superintendent Dr. Jeff Maples said they had talked to principals who said their teachers were on board.

“A lot of teachers are excited about getting their students back 5 days because they feel like it’s the best thing for the kids,” Smith said.

But School Board members Daryl Mason and Pat Campbell said they’d heard the opposite from teachers.

Mason said with it being so late in the school year, it wouldn’t be fair to teachers to take away that one virtual day when they’re still teaching both in-class and online.

According to Smith, 65-75% of elementary students have returned to the classroom, compared to 44-55% of middle schoolers and only 24% at Richmond Senior High School.

“Not only does this give them time to plan … I think it’s a stress reducer,” said Mason, a former teacher and administrator who recently returned to the classroom, himself. “It also gives them time to catch up.

“If I remember, the elementary teachers felt bombarded … now we’re gonna go back to it and put that bombardment back on them?” Mason continued. “We already meet what the state is requiring … why don’t we ride that system out since they’re now used to it?

The school board voted to approve the current schedule in late January, with Mason and Ronald Tillman voting against it.

“I just don’t think we need to put that additional stress on them,” Mason added. “Things have gotten better, but we’re not back to normal.”

Both Campbell and Jerry Ethridge agreed with Mason.

School Board Chairman Wiley Mabe said he keeps getting asked when all students will return to school five days a week.

Both Mabe and Maples insisted that getting closer to normal could help give students momentum heading into the fall semester.

“I think it’s a good time, now, to get those kids back in school,” Maples said.

But Mason stood his ground and said the proposal would be a morale-killer for teachers.

Campbell made the suggestion that was ultimately approved.

Students will be at the schools for state-mandated testing the last two weeks, Smith said, but there are waivers for no accountability with scores.

The new schedule starts April 12 after Spring Break.

Earlier in the meeting, Dr. Wendy Jordan, director of student services, reported that 203 employees received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on March 23 and 269 are scheduled to receive their second dose on March 30. 

Jordan added that 43% of all employees will receive full vaccinations at school-sponsored clinics.

Records show that 143 employees, including 11 in the central office, tested positive for the coronavirus since late August, when the school system began keeping track of cases.

During that same time, 82 traditional students and 241 virtual students also tested positive.

(Note: A slight correction was made regarding waivers for accountability in test scores. 8:40 p.m. 3-25-21)


Last modified on Thursday, 25 March 2021 20:41