In a special called meeting March 17, the Wilkes Board of Education voted 4-1 to return to in-person learning each school day (Plan A) in sixth through 12th grades next week.

Board member Hardin Kennedy made the motion to make this transition on March 24 after it was recommended by Superintendent Mark Byrd.

Board member Joan Caudill said she “joyously, excitedly and any other adjective that you can think of second that motion.” Board member Kirk Walker also voted for the motion.

Sharron Huffman, the fifth board member, cast the dissenting vote. Huffman said she supported the return to Plan A in middle and high schools but preferred doing so March 29 instead of March 24.

Huffman said she favored March 29 because teachers and school staff vaccinated for COVID-19 the last week of February are scheduled to receive their second doses of the vaccine March 26.

“I want to get the kids back into school, but I’ve had a few teachers contact me asking that when we return the kids to school, can we wait until after they’ve had their second vaccinations,” she said. “I am definitely not against our kids going back to school.”

Huffman said she voiced her concerns earlier to Byrd and fellow school board members about making the transition before the second vaccinations.

Byrd said in an interview that he preferred not making the change on Monday, March 29, because spring break starts that same week on Friday, April 2.

“We would just be bringing them back together for four days before sending them home for spring break” (April 2-9) if Plan A started March 29, he said. “I just think the more time together before spring break the better. I don’t want us to bring everybody together for four days and then go home” for the break.

Byrd said some school districts are starting Plan A in middle and high schools on March 22. “But I wanted us to have a chance to ease in… and give everyone more time to adjust to each other.”

He was referring to adjusting to having most middle and high school students physically in their schools each day (Plan A) instead of less than half there each day (Plan B) now.

In the Wilkes school district’s Plan B, students in each school who don’t opt for full-time remote learning (Plan C) are split into two groups. Each day, one of these two groups uses remote learning and the other uses in-person, in-school learning. Each does the opposite the next day.

Byrd said starting Plan A in the middle and high schools March 24 means teachers will have a designated remote learning day for all students (March 19) to prepare their classrooms. He said teachers will also be able to review Plan A guideline with students when they’re in smaller groups on March 22 and 23.

On March 11, Cooper signed legislation into law requiring that elementary schools use Plan A and allowing middle and high schools to use Plan A for the remainder of the school year.

As part of the state law, social distancing is not required in schools under Plan A but is expected to be executed to the greatest extent possible.

Under plans given out at the school board meeting, “staff is onsite” under Plan A, while “essential staff is onsite” under Plan B.

Plan B says school buses run with one student per seat, but Plan A doesn’t have this stipulation. Under both Plans A and B, attestation (of wellness) forms or temperature checks are required to board buses.

Also under both Plans A and B, students and staff must wear masks; temperature checks are required for all personnel and students entering schools; meals are served in classrooms; and no field trips are allowed.

There are other safety requirements for Plans A and B.

All Wilkes public schools started the current school year with Plan C (100% remote learning), but switched to Plan B on Sept. 8. Wilkes elementary schools went from Plan B to Plan A on Oct. 20.

Cooper allowed elementary schools to switch to Plan A starting Oct. 5 and Wilkes elementary schools made this transition on Oct. 20.

Students at every grade level still have the option of using remote learning full-time for the rest of the year.

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