Buses

Students riding buses and entering Pitt County Schools facilities like Eastern Elementary will be screened daily under COVID-19 rules set to reopen schools across the state.

Pitt County Schools students will return to all-virtual instruction for the next two weeks due to increases in the number of COVID-19 cases, the school board decided Monday. Remote learning begins Tuesday and continues through Jan. 22.

The decision follows weekend announcements that two elementary schools would be closed for face-to-face instruction this week due to reported cases and quarantines.

Across the district, Superintendent Ethan Lenker said 267 staff members and 983 students were under quarantine as of Friday.

“What we had to do at Eastern and Ridgewood, looking at the rest of numbers, that’s not going to be the end,” he said.

The 7-2 vote, which reversed a decision last week to start the spring semester in person, will return the county’s public school district to its longest period of remote instruction since the spring of 2020.

School board members Benjie Forrest and Worth Forbes, who have consistently opposed moves to return to all-virtual instruction, were the dissenting votes.

The latest decision followed more than an hour of public input at the two-hour meeting, which drew more than 2,000 livestream views. Pitt County Schools Public Information Officer Jennifer Johnson read dozens of comments that were submitted in writing because members of the public were not allowed to attend due to COVID-19.

Many comments were critical of the board’s Jan. 5 vote against an all-virtual start, despite concerns that the school district would see an after-Christmas spike similar to the one it experienced following the Thanksgiving break.

“We must look at the statistics and the reality of the situation in front of us,” E.B. Aycock Middle School teacher Jonathan Redman wrote. “Pitt County’s positivity rate is 13.6 …. The previous threshold of 10 percent was passed a long time ago.”

Creekside Elementary School teacher Paula Mitra agreed that the board’s decisions should be driven by data.

“Decide what the maximum number of positive COVID-19 cases or the highest rate of infection in the community that there can be and still have students in school safely,” she wrote. “If these guidelines are in place, then the school board won’t have to hold contentious debates during the school board meetings.”

Several comments challenged the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which provides weekly updates on new school-affected cases but does not specify whether new cases involve students or staff members. The district’s weekly report also does not include information about quarantines or a listing of schools where cases have been reported.

“The type of information that is currently being reported is sorely lacking and compounding the frustration, anger and confusion of all stake-holders,” parent Tom Morse wrote. “While the ‘school-affected cases’ is interesting, it's not a clear indicator of the impact of COVID on student learning, teacher availability, number of teachers and students quarantining, impact on substitutes, strain on bus drivers, etc. The term SAC is misleading because it implies that the system as a whole is only impacted by that statistic. Those who understand the definition of SAC (including yourselves) know that’s not the case.”

Morse, whose wife is a Pitt County Schools teacher, was among several writers who asked the district to adopt a more comprehensive reporting system similar to one used in Johnston County.

Parent Amber Reel made a more emotional appeal.

“I do agree that face-to-face is the best way to utilize instructional time. I also agree that the health of staff and students is important,” she wrote. “I’ve said this hundreds of times, ‘I’d rather have dumb kids that are alive than smart ones who have died.’”

Ross, who said she has suffered a loss due to COVID-19, criticized the board for failing to mention by name Richard Montoya, a band and orchestra teacher at Wellcome Middle and North Pitt High School, who died in June from COVID-19.


Montoya’s former co-worker, Jennifer Krajna, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Let’s hope the next time one of our teachers dies, their name will be remembered,” she wrote.

Krajna’s letter said teachers are being undermined and left out of decision-making.

“Does the board not realize we are scared? We are mentally tired and have had to deal with so much change lately that it is becoming harder and harder to do our job when we are trying to get our own basic needs met,” she wrote. “When is enough enough?”

But some writers thanked the board for its previous efforts to preserve face-to-face instruction.

Nancy Keith said her daughter was scheduled this week to have her first face-to-face day since March.

“She is on pins and needles that she will not get to go,” she wrote. “As a working parent and essential worker who has remained working through the entire pandemic, I feel that face-to-face instruction is best suited for our children.”

Parent Megan Weaver told the board that her middle school child has to be left home to supervise her younger siblings because her parents work.

“It’s not working,” she wrote. “My children are failing.”

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Pitt County Schools students will return to all-virtual instruction for the next two weeks due to increases in the number of COVID-19 cases, the school board decided Monday. Remote learning begins Tuesday and continues through Jan. 22.

The decision follows weekend announcements that two elementary schools would be closed for face-to-face instruction this week due to reported cases and quarantines.

Across the district, Superintendent Ethan Lenker said 267 staff members and 983 students were under quarantine as of Friday.

“What we had to do it at Eastern and Ridgewood, looking at the rest of numbers, that’s not going to be the end,” he said.

The 7-2 vote, which reversed a decision last week to start the spring semester in person, will return the county’s public school district to its longest period of remote instruction since the spring of 2020.

School board members Benjie Forrest and Worth Forbes, who have consistently opposed moves to return to all-virtual instruction, were the dissenting votes.

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com or call 329-9578.