Some students who expected to spend this week at home will head back to the classroom today under a plan developed by Pitt County Schools.
In-person learners at Stokes School, who — like students across the district — have been attending classes on alternating weeks, will be together for the first time since the school year began Aug. 17. Full-time virtual students will continue online learning.
Parent Julie Schwarz is glad to see this option being made available for her children and others who struggle with virtual learning.
“There’s still the option to keep your kids at home all the time,” she said. “But the people who want their kids to be in school … they should have already been back in school.”
Stokes is among more than half a dozen of the county’s public schools trying to offer some students more days of face-to-face instruction while maintaining the distancing currently required by the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Ridgewood and W.H. Robinson elementary schools also are beginning today to bring back groups of learners to classrooms where space is available. At Ridgewood, students in kindergarten through second grade are slated to come back; learners returning at Robinson are those in kindergarten, first, third and fourth grades.
“After one month of school under Plan B, Pitt County Schools is assessing and reassessing ways to serve our students best while still following the safety guidelines set forth by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services,” Pitt County Schools Public Information Office Jennifer Johnson said. “While 100% face-to-face instruction is best for all students academically, current state and guidelines indicate that it is not yet safe to do so, requiring us to continue to operate until further notice at least under Plan B (limited capacity, alternating A/B weeks of virtual and face to face instruction) while giving parents the option of 100% virtual learning.”
But those requirements could soon change. Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week that school districts could choose to allow elementary students to return to daily, in-person classes beginning on Oct. 5. Districts choosing this option would not have to limit the number of students inside a classroom, but would continue to require symptom screenings and face coverings.
The Pitt County Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the measure at a special-called meeting at 10 a.m. on Sept. 28.
Meanwhile, Johnson said, the district is continuing with its plan to offer students four days a week of in-person learning at schools where space is available. Mondays through Nov. 16 are remote instruction days for all Pitt County Schools’ traditional students.
Superintendent Ethan Lenker told the Board of Education earlier this month that the district would be able to allow students who had been alternating weeks of in-person instruction to attend classes on campus every week at some — but not all — schools. This is due to the fact that about 50 percent of Pitt County Schools’ students are full-time virtual learners.
Students already have moved from an A/B week schedule to attending classes each week at Bethel School, which had space to bring back learners in kindergarten through third grade and in grades five through seven. Pitt County Schools Early College High School’s sophomores also have been allowed to return to daily on-campus instruction.
Ridgewood and Creekside elementary schools are bringing back groups of learners who have challenges with virtual learning, including deaf and hard of hearing students, exceptional children and English language learners.
Farmville Middle School Principal Jeremiah Miller said his school also is hoping to bring more learners back to campus but is still working out transportation details because it shares buses with Farmville Central High School.
South Greenville and Falkland elementary schools are scheduled to bring their in-person learners to classes together beginning Sept. 29.
Falkland Principal Anthony Perkins said 150 parents responding to a survey at the school indicated they wanted their students to return to the classroom for full-time instruction. As a result, the school not only invited its in-person learners to return to classes each week but also found room for 35 full-time virtual students to change to become face-to-face learners. The school now has a waiting list for kindergarten and third-grade students who want to return to campus.
“We are excited that our kids want to come back to school,” Perkins said, “and our parents are working with us to determine the best way to accommodate as many students as possible while still maintaining strict safety guidelines.”
Schwarz said even with more students in the classroom, she feels comfortable with measures the school has in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I think with the precautions they’re taking, you can’t get m much better than that,” she said. “If they’re not going to school, they’re going to day care with a bunch of kids. I value education, and I think they should be in school.”
Although Schwarz has been allowed to alter her work schedule to accommodate her children’s remote learning weeks, she is still concerned about the effect that spending so much time away from school will have on their education.
She said her oldest, Robert, has been waking up early so that she could help him with his virtual lessons before younger siblings Claire and Jack need her attention.
“Virtual learning’s hard,” Robert, a third-grader, said.
Schwarz, who is a licensed clinical social worker, believes remote learning is taking a toll on some students that goes beyond academics.
“Kids need routine and structure,” she said. “Not everybody’s home life is great, so sometimes school is their safe haven. It’s more than just an education.
“Some kids are probably not being watched well or are in a stressful, difficult environment,” Schwarz said. “Mentally and long term, I think going back to school is very important for children.”