Pitt County Schools students will return to classes next week for their first Monday on campus since August, but it also is scheduled to be their last one until April.

The district is extending remote learning Mondays through the end of March under a plan announced Monday at a Board of Education workshop. The calendar change adds 11 remote learning days to the 2020-21 academic calendar, replacing days originally scheduled for on-campus instruction.

That is in addition to nine remote instruction days the board voted to add to the calendar from Sept. 14-Nov. 16.

Superintendent Ethan Lenker said educators across the district agree that having one day a week of all-remote instruction is needed during the coronavirus pandemic. He said the day helps give teachers time to balance the demands of instructing two separate groups of face-to-face learners in addition to full-time virtual learners.

“Middle schools and high schools really don’t have a choice in my opinion,” Lenker said.

Of the district’s 23,140 students, 10,687 are full-time virtual learners, while 12,453 attended classes face-to-face, at least part time.

Nearly all the county’s middle schools and high school students receiving in-person instruction alternate a week of classes on campus with a week of virtual instruction due to distancing requirements designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Face-to-face learners in elementary schools, where 6 feet of spacing between students is no longer required by the state, attend classes every week.

District 5 representative Anna Barrett Smith said many parents would not welcome the move to add more remote instruction days to the calendar.

“Probably all of us have heard from parents who are not fans and primarily teachers who are fans. I think that’s mostly a function of one side not understanding the other side’s position,” she said, adding that both teachers and parents feel overwhelmed by the changes in education.

Vice Chairwoman Melinda Fagundus, who represents District 8, said the district is fortunate to have been able to offer virtual and in-person options for students.

“The community and the families need to understand that there are a lot of counties in North Carolina that don’t even have an option to go to school,” she said.

The board did not take a vote on the superintendent’s recommendation, although the last decision to alter the calendar, made in September, received board approval. Chairwoman Betsy Flanagan said the calendar amendment does not require a vote.

District 6 representative Worth Forbes, who in September voted with District 9 representative Benjie Forrest to reject the additional remote learning days, said on Monday that some parents of elementary learners are challenged to try to find child care for one day a week.

“We need to get these kids back (to school),” Forbes said. “We’re doing the best we can, but it’s not what kids need.”

He said he did not dispute that teachers need the day, which is intended for review and to allow time for educator collaboration and for teachers to work remotely with students who need additional assistance.

“There’s a balance,” he said, adding that the district should move toward a longer school day to “meet parents in the middle.”

Lenker said Pitt County Schools is working to extend the school day, which ends at 1:30 p.m. for elementary learners and 3 p.m. for middle and high schools. But there was no indication of when a change of schedule could be implemented.

The amended school calendar includes remote learning Mondays for all students on Nov. 30; Dec. 7 and 14; Jan. 11 and 25; Feb. 1, 8 and 22; and March 1, 15 and 22. There is no school for students on Dec. 21 and 28 and Jan. 18 due to holiday breaks. Teacher workdays are scheduled for Jan. 4, Feb. 15, and March 8 and 29.

Pitt County Schools is surveying parents of full-time virtual students regarding their enrollment for the spring semester. Lenker said that while the district does not yet know how many students plan to return to face-to-face learning in January, “informally, about a month ago we had about 2,000 kids want to come back.”

He added that he was unsure how recent increases in cases of COVID-19 across the state might affect parents’ decisions.

“At some point, we’ve really got to get these kids back,” he said. “It’s not good for kids. This virtual instruction is what it is, but it’s not good for kids.”

The deadline for full-time virtual students to commit to virtual or face-to-face enrollment is Friday. Students who select full-time virtual enrollment for the spring will continue online learning through June 2021. Students currently attending classes on campus will automatically be re-enrolled as face-to-face learners and are not required to register. For more information, visit https://bit.ly/PCSFAQSpringDecision.

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