FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Cumberland County Schools have finalized a decision to open the 2020-2021 school year under Plan C for at least the first six weeks of the year. The school board's choice to utilize remote learning was unanimous and echoed Superintendent Dr. Marvin Connelly Jr.'s recommendation.
Plan C, which involves students participating in online-only classes, would run through at least Sept. 25. The plans calls for the district to subsequently operate under Plan B--a mix of online and in-person classes--no earlier than Sept. 28, provided that the Director of Cumberland County Public Health confirms that COVID-19 conditions have improved significantly.
Cumberland's traditional school year starts on Aug. 17. North Carolina surpassed 100,000 COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic on Monday.
"I feel it's necessary to adopt Plan C for the opening of the school year in order to ensure the health and safety of our Cumberland County students and staff," Dr. Connelly said.
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"The situation is terrible," said board member Joseph Source. "When I first voted for Plan B, I thought maybe we might flatten the curve soon and we could do that, but now I don't see that happening in the immediate future. Until we flatten the curve, I think we have to go remote."
"We can always fix the academics of the kids. But we can't fix somebody that passes away from this terrible disease."
Dr. Connelly must get approval from the board for the district to continue operating under Plan C beyond Sept. 25. Connelly said the district will work to maximize student engagement to provide a high-quality learning experience for every child under the plan.
"Our goal is to get children and teachers back in the building as quickly as we can," said Susan Williams. "But we have to keep safety in mind."
The school district said it will share specific details about how Plan C will work. The district is exploring ways to hold multiple student orientations and device pick up drives.
In the virtual meeting, one school board member said he consulted with the Cumberland County Health Director on the need to lower the positive COVID-19 rate before sending kids back to the classroom.
"Expert consensus recommends the testing positive rate be at about five percent, but we are at nine percent in our community. Seven percent is a reasonable compromise," said school board Vice Chair At Large Greg West.
Divided reactions have poured in from parents who are preparing for a school year that starts with students learning from home.
"It's easy to lose the focus if its online. Just not do it by saying, 'Oh, I can do it later' and not do it. I'm at work all day. I can't make sure he's doing it during the day," said Penny Williams, a Cumberland County Schools parent.
"I'm not a scientist or doctor, but from what I can see, I think it's a good idea to hold off until the numbers look a little better. The numbers look awful and the predictions are not that they will go down any time soon," said Radiah Johnson, another parent of a child attending Cumberland County Schools.
At least one teacher agrees with the move made by the school board. Donna Wiles teaches math at Reid Ross Classical High School. She admits there will be some challenges virtually, but said they can be overcome.
"It shows that our superintendent and school board has put the safety of our employees and students of Cumberland County first and that's encouraging," said Wiles.
Earlier this month, Gov. Roy Cooper said that the state will move forward with Plan B and said school districts have the option to choose Plan C if they feel it's best for them.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, Chatham County Schools, Durham Public Schools, Orange County School District, Vance County Schools and Warren County Schools have all adopted Plan C. Wake County Public School System is expected to make a decision Tuesday.
Orange County Schools plan