Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd on Wednesday explained how and why Wilkes school officials settled on the option of having students in their schools every other day to comply with Gov. Roy Cooper’s directive for starting the 2020-21 academic year.

Cooper announced Tuesday that Plan B will be the base operating model for North Carolina’s K-12 schools when students return to classes on Aug. 17.

Plan B limits schools to 50% of their capacity, with student attendance in school buildings alternating on portions of each day, week or month. When not engaged in in-person classroom learning, students will be learning remotely while at home.

Cooper also stated, “As a part of this plan, we want local school districts to provide remote learning options for any child who chooses it.” He also said school districts can choose Plan C, but not Plan A.

Plan C has all students engaged in remote learning every day. This is how schools statewide operated for the last 2 ½ months of the 2019-20 school year after Cooper ordered school buildings closed to students due to COVID-19 in March.

Plan A has all students attending schools as they normally would but with measures to help prevent spread of COVID-19.

Byrd said Wednesday, “First and foremost, I hope everyone understands that we were advised by the governor's office to develop a plan (Plan B) to address operating schools at reduced capacity.

"We knew that this would present challenges, as it has for districts throughout our state. I also have parents mention to me almost daily that they want to see their children back in school, and our goal is to find a way to offer this while also taking steps to ensure their safety. 

“We felt that the option for every other day gave us the best opportunity to have face to face instruction with as many students as possible, as we want them back in our schools as much as they can safely be.

"While some districts are bringing in younger students every day and going fully remote for upper grades, we wanted to be able to provide face to face instruction for all students.”

Byrd said Wilkes School District leadership formed a committee of principals, teachers and directors for input on this tentative schedule (alternating days), “and we reached consensus that this was our best option.”

He said Wilkes Board of Education members were informed of the planning and thinking throughout the process and have had opportunities to share their advice or concerns.

“The board was aware that we were releasing this tentative plan, and will be asked to formally approve once all aspects are worked out. Our district also conducted parent and staff surveys and reviewed these responses to see what were their greatest concerns. We are taking steps to address these concerns as much as possible.”

Byrd said Wilkes school officials knew that any schedule that didn’t have all students in school would present challenges for families. 

“Our surveys showed that many parents wanted to make sure that siblings were on the same schedule, which we have planned for. When we finalize our calendars for days that students will attend, we will get these out to parents as soon as possible to help with planning. 

“Beyond this, our hope is that those who provide child care in our county will realize what a challenge it is to operate schools at reduced capacity, and will find ways that they can provide assistance. Keep in mind, we don't have calendars finalized at this time, and know this is not perfect, but feel that letting people know well in advance of what we can offer may help with some of these challenges.” 

Byrd added, “We also plan to offer Plan C, or fully Remote Learning, for those who choose that as the best option for their children. This may not help with child care, but will hopefully reduce concerns for those who are afraid for their children to return.  We plan to release information about this to our community very shortly.”

Byrd said all aspects of school operations will be challenging when operating at reduced capacity.

“Some districts are not planning to go to Plan B simply due to costs and challenges presented by operations such as transportation, but we feel we have plans in place that can make this successful.

In closing, our goal is to be able to provide the best educational opportunity possible for every student, while ensuring the safety and well-being of students and staff.  We hope that Plan B is a short-term solution, but look forward to the day that all of our students can safely return.”

In addition to announcing details about plan B for the Wilkes schools on Tuesday, Byrd said protocols will be in place under this plan for social distancing, facial coverings and extra cleaning of facilities. “As always, our number one priority will be the safety of our students and our staff.”

He said calendars will produced shortly so parents will know what days their children will be in their classrooms.

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