We asked central NC school administrators about their Back-to-School concerns. Here's what they said

Thursday, August 13, 2020
We asked school administrators about COVID-19 concerns: What they said
We asked school administrators about COVID-19 concerns: What they said

The decision to suspend in-person learning turned out to be an easy one to make and to implement.

"Shutting down was easy. Everybody knew it was coming," Jeff Nash, a spokesman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District, said. "You knew it was going to happen."


In the ensuing months, districts across the state have worked with officials to game plan a return to the classroom - but it's an assignment much easier said than done.

"We had announced a hybrid plan and people can choose. Everyone virtual for nine weeks then we go hybrid," Nash said. "Then last week the board approved a recommendation to go virtual for the entire semester. We won't even have students in school until January at the earliest."

INTERACTIVE: What does back to school look like in a pandemic?

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City is among the dozens of administrations, public schools, charter schools and parochial schools to respond to an ABC11 I-Team survey on the new academic new year.

Most of the responses are already common knowledge: the vast majority of schools and districts are either starting all virtual (38% of respondents) or a mix of online and in-person (43%). Only four schools who responded - Thales Academy, Fayetteville Academy, St. David's School and Flaming Sword Christian Academy - are going full-time in-person learning. Thales Academy is also offering online learning option for students.

Find your school district's reopening plan here

When it comes to students actually returning to class, 47% are expecting more than half of their students to return to school when it opens, while 38% think less than half will choose to come back.

All schools are requiring teachers to wear masks. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, who is offering online instruction for the first semester marked 'undecided.' Eight-six percent of administrators are requiring students to wear masks as well.

Indeed, every school and district also responded by committing to robust cleaning and disinfectant protocols, but when offered open-ended questions about challenges, administrators and school leaders were united in their concerns for putting plans into action.

"Current delays in getting COVID testing results will create challenges for quick isolation or contact tracing in the event of a positive case on campus," St. Timothy's School said.

"How do you balance physical health and the mental health of your student?" East Wake Academy said.

The Institute for the Development of Young Leaders, a charter school in Durham, talked about financial instabilities: "The funds allocated will be insufficient to cover the increased costs related to operating the school given the state of the pandemic with the resulting need for social distancing, masks, increased cleaning protocols, emptier buses, emptier classes, and student needs such as laptops, hotspots, and online resources and supports."

Leanne Winner, Director of Government Relations for North Carolina School Boards Administration, says the financial concerns go well beyond the costs of cleaning.

"Property tax is a big funding source. Sales tax is a big funding source," Winner said, adding that projections for both revenue streams are down significantly. "Then you have things like natural disasters. There is so much unknown right now that people have to act as conservatively with their budgets right now but also spending it in a way they are providing a safe environment for students to learn and for our staff to work."