[Editor: The headline has been corrected to reflect grade 4 instead of 5.]
District officials said Tuesday that they plan to have elementary school students phase into in-person learning next week.
Under the plan, all kindergarten, first- and second-graders will start in-person learning together Monday, with the full third and fourth grades to follow after a half-day Wednesday, according to Superintendent of School Dr. Bryan Luizzi. (For Monday through Wednesday, third- and fourth-graders will continue with the current “cohort” model, where half are in school at one time.)
The plan is designed to give faculty and staff “the time to learn along the way, pace it out, to make adjustments,” Luizzi told members of the Board of Education’s Reopen NCPS Committee during a meeting held via videoconference.
“Make sure everyone feels safe,” he said. “Make sure all the mitigation strategies are in place.”
Luizzi noted that the district since early-August had planned to have all elementary school kids back for in-person learning next week, and described the phased approach of breaking up grades K through 5 as true to that plan. It will help the schools work out “kinks with arrival and dismissal and other lunches and everything else” prior to having a full student body inside East, South and West Schools, he said.
“We are staying with plan,” he said. “The truth is, this is hard work. To have the half-day for kindergartners is tough. The remote learning for our youngest learners can be tough. Our parents have been doing an amazing job. Our teachers are doing just a fabulous job—rising to the challenge, problem-solving. But it’s tough. We want our kids back. We know that the best learning happens face-to-face, in-person. So that’s our goal that we want to continue working toward. But we want to start with our youngest learners because they have the hardest time in this kind of environment.”
Board of Ed Chair Katrina Parkhill said she was “fully supportive” of the plan.
“I think our process of bringing everybody in gradually has served us well,” she said. “I think it’s gone very well. And I think bringing back an entire school, especially this age group, could be a challenge. So I really like the way it caters to the ones who are hardest to have at home. I think it makes a lot of sense to do it that way.”
Board of Ed members asked whether the administration had considered bringing back the full third and fourth grade on Wednesday (no it’s a half-day, and it will give the district time to learn from the first two days of the week), whether the plan remains to start Saxe Middle School the following week, and then the high school after that (as of now, yes, though much will depend on what’s learned from the full in-school experience at the elementary level) and how social distancing will work in the cafeterias with all of K-2 back in school (the cafs are set up for it, including with plexiglass, and mask-wearing remains the most important mitigation tool).
Board Secretary Jennifer Richardson asked whether Luizzi thought teachers concerned about COVID-19 virus will support plans to bring the full student bodies back into school buildings.
The superintendent conceded that people are nervous everywhere, adding, “They [the teachers] are committed to their kids and they are going to do the right things and they are going to work through what they have to work through.”
“But I don’t want to understate it: It is a challenging environment,” he continued. “It is. We are watching positive cases pop up all around us.”
Luizzi added, “The likelihood that we are going to have positive cases is quite high. It’s happening around us. We know that this is what schools are experiencing. So, as in all things, it’s what happens next. So it’s being sure that we are prepared for when that does happen to step through the protocols appropriately, keep everybody safe and make the right decisions. The first time that happens is going to be a challenge for folks and we will have to work through it. Every step of this is a challenge. And we are here to support our teachers, work with them.”
[Note: The school district’s continuously updated operations guide during COVID-19 can be found online here.]