The Nash County Board of Education met Thursday night to discuss several issues, including the timing for the reopening of schools to classroom instruction.
The school board met before Christmas and voted to delay classroom instruction until Jan. 25 because of the expected effect of holiday gatherings and travel on COVID metrics. After considerable discussion Thursday, the school board decided to keep that plan in place for now but leave open the option of revisiting that decision if needed.
“In December, it was suggested that we provide two options at this meeting concerning the reopening of school, and we will be discussing these options tonight,” Superintendent Steve Ellis told school board members.
The first recommendation Ellis made was that all students who have not opted out of in-person instruction for the remainder of the year operate on the Plan B model, a combination of face-to-face and remote instruction, beginning on Jan. 25 as planned. For most middle and high school students, it will be the first opportunity they have for classroom learning this academic year.
“Right now, we have 197 staff members in the district under quarantine. We have told the principals that if some teachers feel that they need to stay remote for now, we will,” Ellis said. “We are giving them the option, because based on some of the conversations we have had with the school nurses, we think this would be a good time to keep them out if they feel they need to be out.”
The second recommendation is that the school board hold a special called meeting on Jan. 19 to examine the area COVID metrics at that time and determine if schools should transition to Plan B or remain in Plan C.
Ellis said that does not need to be decided now.
“If there is a spike in the next two weeks, we could easily call that special called meeting,” he said.
To aid in the decision-making process, Ellis and his team presented a snapshot of where Nash County and the school district stand in terms of COVID metrics.
“We are now looking not just at positivity rates, but at whether we can actually operate the schools,” Ellis said.
Nash County currently is in the red — or critical threat — tier and Edgecombe County, where some of the students live, now is in the orange — or substantial threat — tier, said Leondus Farrow Jr., assistant superintendent of student support services and operations for the school district.
Farrow also noted that the positivity rate in Nash County was 8.7 percent on Nov. 29 and now is 11.8 percent. In addition, the 197 staff members currently under quarantine is the highest number since the school year began. This week, 19 staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
“I think we did a really good thing when we did the delay because I think we would have had some issues trying to start on Jan. 11,” Ellis said. “But I do think we should be able to move to Plan B by Jan. 25.”
The school district is tracking the percentage of teachers and staff across the district and at each school who are available to work in person with a goal of keeping that number above 75 percent. As of Jan. 7, the districtwide number was 91.8 percent, Ellis said. However, D.S. Johnson Elementary currently is at about 60 percent, he said.
“In our opinion, that is a hotspot. Instead of closing the district, we would want to have more conversations about going to that school or one in that situation, and if we couldn’t manage the situation, closing the school and going to remote learning there for about two weeks,” Ellis said. “We are going to do everything we can to keep the schools open and operate them.”
In other business, the school board chose leaders for the new calendar year. Chairman Franklin Lamm will remain as head of the board. School board member Evelyn Bulluck cast the lone no vote.
Lamm thanked the other board members for their votes.
“I will continue to try to do my best with everyone helping me,” Lamm said.
Bill Sharpe will serve as vice chairman after winning the position in a split vote. School board member Lank Dunton nominated Sharpe for the position and school board member Doneva Chavis nominated LaShawnda Washington. Sharpe was elected in a 6-5 vote.