UNION COUNTY — Three hours after Governor Roy Cooper announced the state’s plan to reopen K-12 public schools next month, Union County Public Schools (UCPS) announced a plan to execute it. The school district will follow Cooper’s plan, which is a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, however, UCPS tacked on another option for county students. The first day of school for public school students will be Aug. 17.
On Tuesday afternoon at a press briefing, Governor Cooper shared three options for reopening schools this fall. He said public schools are to follow option B, but are given permission to follow option C, which includes remote learning only.
“The most important opening is that of our classroom doors. Our schools provide more than academics; they are vital to our children’s health, safety and emotional development,” Cooper said. “This is a difficult time for families with hard choices on every side. I am committed to working together to ensure our students and educators are as safe as possible and that children have opportunities to learn in the way that is best for them and their families.”
Option A: Students and teachers having full-time and in-person instruction. There would be minimal social distancing between all students in school buildings at the same time.
Option B: Mix of both in-person and remote learning. Students will be divided into groups and those groups would have assigned days they can be in school buildings. How many days a week students participate in in-person learning is contingent upon the size of the groups. Fridays would be reserved for at home learning for all students. When students are not on school premises, they are required to complete remote learning on the remaining days. There are still five days of learning.
Option C: Remote learning only. Teachers would provide live sessions and “on demand” videos for instruction and assessments. Both numeric and letter grades would be recorded for the 2020-21 school year. “On demand” videos are recorded by teachers that can be viewed by students who are unable to access live instruction videos.
Option D (exclusive to UCPS): Virtual Academy — Families who do not want their child or children to participate in in-person learning can enroll and commit to one semester in the Virtual Academy. There will be an evaluation at the end of the semester, according to UCPS. “Each school will assign an administrator to oversee its Virtual Learning Academy. UCPS teachers will provide virtual instruction through live video as well as daily assignments posted in Canvas.” Applications for the Virtual Academy open on Monday, July 20, and runs through Sunday, July 26, at 11:59 p.m. Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan said the window of time to apply is small, because school starts soon and the district needs time to prepare.
Houlihan said in relation to the virtual academy that anything the school district would “offer in a face-to-face environment — EC, AIG, dual language — we are preparing to offer that in a virtual academy program as long as we have the enrollment numbers to support the teaching staff to man that program.”
Students in the academy would be eligible to participate in extracurricular activities and sports.
He explained that families who do not enroll in the virtual academy would seemingly be part of option B. Too, the district and each school would follow up with families to let them know they have the option to apply to the academy.
Attendance would be recorded under each option, Houlihan said, because it is a state requirement.
Houlihan gave a presentation via Zoom (that was streamed on YouTube) about reopening schools during a Board of Education special called meeting. The live video on YouTube has just under 5,000 views. As of Wednesday at noon, the video reached 17,000 views.
He repeatedly stated that information he gave in the presentation is subject to change, because reopening schools while a pandemic continues to spread throughout the state and nation is unprecedented.
What Plan B will look like
When organizing which day(s) of the week students will be on school grounds, families with multiple children attending UCPS schools will be a priority. The district will devise a schedule that would allow kids of the same family to attend school on the same day. “There’s no reason why we can’t figure out how to schedule that where they go to school on the same day,” Houlihan said.
In an effort to keep students, faculty and staff healthy and safe, temperature checks will be required for students and anyone who enters a school building. Social distancing will be maintained. Students will be provided with five cloth face masks. They are required to wear a mask while at school and while riding school busses. Anyone entering a school building must wear a mask. UCPS employees will be given additional face masks. Nurses will have starter packs of personal protection equipment provided by the state.
Should there be either a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 at a school, UCPS reports it will follow CDC guidelines on how to handle the situation and schools are required to have separate areas for the symptomatic.
Support for families with vulnerable students will be provided, according to UCPS. Schools and offices will be cleaned daily and according to CDC protocols.
Sneeze guards and physical barriers will be places where they are necessary (outside restrooms and in cafeterias) and physical markers indicating six feet will be placed throughout schools. Signage reminding students and staff to wear masks and wash their hands will be placed throughout school buildings.
Cafeterias will serve grab-and-go style meals that are prepared in schools.
Limited after school programs may be available. School club activities will be contingent upon state guidelines. “UCPS athletics will operate per guidelines from the NC High School Athletics Association,” according to the school district.
Seniors would spend time with their counselors just like they would if they were at school full-time and in-person. Houlihan clarified that school buildings would not be closed on remote learning days (Fridays); therefore, seniors could make appointments to meet with their counselors and teachers as needed.