Nash County Public Schools will begin the school year with remote learning for all students, the Nash County Board of Education decided Wednesday in an 8-2 vote.

School board members Lank Dunton and Reginald Silver voted against the plan but did not state their reasons.

The plan was proposed by Nash County Superintendent Steve Ellis and was crafted by a School Reopening Task Force set up by school officials. Ellis said the group really wanted to put students in classrooms from the beginning but that option is not feasible at this time.

“It is every educator’s desire to have kids in the building. We started out with that goal in mind,” Ellis said.

Ellis also noted that Nash County is making its school reopening decision later than most other school districts in the state. Edgecombe County Public Schools and both charter schools in the area already have announced that they are beginning the school year with remote learning.

“I am sorry we are a little late. But I felt like we wanted to hear from everyone and go look at every angle because every time we met, we learned something new,” Ellis said.

Earlier this summer, Gov. Roy Cooper tasked each school district with coming up with three possible plans for school reopening. Nash County Public Schools’ Plan A was to have minimal social distancing with all students and staff in the building. But the school district still planned to offer enrollment in the Nash County Virtual Academy as an option for families who were not comfortable with face-to-face school attendance.

The Plan B option was for moderate social distancing, which limits the density of students in facilities to meet state Department of Health and Human Services requirements. All staff members would be on campus and parents would have the option of choosing the Virtual Academy for remote learning.

Plan C was a remote learning option with staff members on campus and all students learning remotely. Alternately, parents could choose the Virtual Academy curriculum option, which requires a commitment of at least a semester even if schools return to Plan B or Plan A.

So far, 3,263 students of the roughly 15,000 students in the district already have signed up for the Virtual Academy, Ellis said.

School board members voted Wednesday to adopt Plan C for the foreseeable future with the goal of switching to Plan B as soon as it is practical. Online instruction will begin on Aug. 6 for students in Nash County Early College High School or CITI High. Online instruction for all other students will begin on Aug. 17.

Under the reopening plan, classes would operate on a staggered schedule for the first 20 days to allow for staff and student orientations and open houses. These meetings will be offered face to face and virtually. Details of these events will be decided by each school and will be posted on school websites.

Ellis said the decision to switch to Plan B will be based on several issues. The factors that will determine movement from Plan C to Plan B will include staffing input, the availability of PPE for students and COVID-19 metrics, which will be determined in collaboration with the Nash County Health Department.

Transportation is another big issue, Ellis said. Under current guidelines, only about 22 students will be allowed on each bus.

When and if the school district does move to Plan B, the move will happen gradually. Ellis said the school district will attempt to phase in “our most vulnerable populations” for face-to-face instruction first. These students include those in self-contained Exceptional Children classes as well as pre-kindergarten students.

But the earliest this could possibly happen would be the week of Sept. 8, Ellis said. Once that transition happens, kindergarten students would be the next to be phased in, he said.

School board member Evelyn Bulluck said she feels the Sept. 8 date is too unrealistic to consider, especially with the current surge in cases in the county.

As of Wednesday, the Nash County Health Department reported 958 cases of COVID-19, an increase of 31 cases from the day before.

Ellis said part of the impetus for the decision to start with Plan C was the results of a second staff survey conducted after Cooper offered school districts the choice of reopening with Plan B or C. That survey was conducted from July 15 to July 26.

Teachers were asked how they felt about returning under the Plan B model under the current COVID-19 metrics. Roughly 41 percent of staff members in the district were comfortable with this option, 40 percent were uncomfortable and 19 percent were undecided.

When asked about their comfort level with the Plan C option, 71 percent of teachers were comfortable with the option, 11 percent were uncomfortable and 18 percent were undecided.

The survey also revealed that 53 percent of staff said they fall in the high-risk category regarding COVID-19 impact and 47 percent said they do not.

Details of the plan still are emerging. For more information on the reopening plan or to learn more about the Virtual Academy option, go to https://www.ncpschools.net/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=1803991&type=d&pREC_ID=1973546.