Nine out of the 13 Wilkes County elementary school principals surveyed favored allowing their students to return to full-time in-person learning when the second grading period starts Oct. 20, said Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd.

“I have to add that the other four (elementary school principals) said they would prefer to have students today” in full-time in-person learning, added Byrd, speaking at the Wilkes Board of Education meeting Monday night.

Byrd said that after consulting with elementary school (grades K-5) principals and Wilkes Health Director Rachel Willard, Wilkes school administration recommended switching all elementary schools to full-time in-person learning (Plan A) on Oct. 20.

He said Willard told him that she feels very good about the return to full-time in-person learning in the elementary schools.

Wilkes school board member Hardin Kennedy’s motion to approve switching elementary schools to Plan A on Oct. 20 passed unanimously. He said waiting until Oct. 20 instead of Oct. 5, when Gov. Roy Cooper said the change could be made, will be less disruptive.

Byrd said waiting until Oct. 20 allows everyone a clean start and also allows a work day for transitioning, including returning furniture to classrooms. He said there may be adjustments moving forward.

It appears almost 85% of the Wilkes School District’s elementary students will switch to Plan A when allowed to do so starting Oct. 20, he said. “But keep in mind that these numbers vary from school to school.”

Parents and guardians of Wilkes elementary students were asked to make a commitment to Plan C (full-time remote learning) or Plan A by Oct. 2.

Plan C was already an option in all Wilkes schools and Byrd said parents of any student can switch them to this at any time if they think doing otherwise isn’t safe. “Some parents committed to remain remote until the end of the fall semester,” which is Jan. 14, 2021.”

He said roughly 79% of elementary students have been in Plan B, which is alternating between remote learning one day and in-person learning the next. Plan B became an option in all Wilkes schools starting Sept. 8 and it remains so in all Wilkes middle schools and high schools.

Plan C was the only choice in all Wilkes public schools for the first three weeks of the academic year.

He said social distancing (remaining six feet apart) won’t be required in elementary school classrooms under Plan A, but will be continued to the best extent possible.

Byrd mentioned guidance to have all students seated so they face the same direction. Removing items from classrooms will provide more space for social distancing, he added.

Seating charts will be used to determine how far apart students are from each other, said Byrd. “In the event someone needs to be quarantined, having seating charts will be essential” to determine who was in close proximity to the person in quarantine.”

Masks will still be mandatory for students and staff in elementary schools, except during meals and when students are engaged in strenuous exercise. “Mask breaks will still be allowed for students and staff,” he said.

Extra custodial hours are planned in each elementary school to allow additional cleaning.

He said temperature checks and screening questions will still be required to board school buses and enter schools.

Bus transportation under Plan A will continue much as it is now under Plan B. Byrd said that means one student per seat to the best extent possible, except allowing siblings to sit together. “We originally thought this was going to be a tremendous challenge, but it looks like our decrease in ridership makes this probably doable.”

He said maintaining one student per seat will be more of a challenge on some bus routes. School transportation staff adjusted routes for the return to Plan A, he added.

Byrd said meals will still be served in classrooms. Wilkes School Nutrition Director Marty Johnson estimated that the school system will be able to serve about 1,900 more lunches per day under Plan A than it has been serving under Plan B.

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