Parents, educators react to Durham Public Schools 2020-21 reopen plan

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Seventeen-year-old Mason Pickett will not physically see his Hillside High classmates when school returns in August.

"I want my son to go back to school," said Carmen Jarmon, Pickett's mother. "It's his senior year and there are so many things that he missed as a junior."

But under Durham Public Schools (DPS) COVID-19 reopen guidelines, Mason, a theater student, and his mom are coming terms that he will be learning virtually from home.

"I understand that it's safety first," Jarmon tells ABC 11.

RELATED: Durham Public Schools plans to send K-8 students back for in-person instruction, keep high school students home

DPS is using high schools to accommodate social distancing for up to 23,000 students from Kindergarten through 8th grade.

The new reopen guidelines require cloth face coverings for students and teachers that will be provided by the district. Buildings and classrooms will be half full; each room equipped with cleaning supplies and will be disinfected daily.

For transportation, school buses can't reach more than 33 percent capacity.

School leaders say every day upon entry, student's temperature will be checked.

"We're going to separate students that could be displaying symptoms of COVID-19 immediately," stated Chip Sudderth, a spokesman for DPS.

Teachers and students who are on the fence about returning will be able to shift to online accommodations.

So far, nearly 1,200 DPS families have inquired about the district's new online learning academy.

But in Durham County, nearly 8 percent of homes don't have a computer and 11 percent don't have internet, according to the American Community Survey.

"We are directly addressing the digital divide," Sudderth tells ABC 11.

The school board is dipping into reserve funds to provide computers and hot spots; money they hope to get back through private donations and federal money from the Cares Act. But some educators say state lawmakers should be funding these extra costs and giving teachers hazard pay.

RELATED: Minorities at a disadvantage when it comes to online schooling in North Carolina

"I think in order to fully carry out this plan our legislators in Raleigh need to come up with the funding so that our staff and students are safe," said Michelle Burton, a librarian and president of the Durham Association of Educators.

Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger's office says the legislature has already appropriated half a billion dollars in COVID-19 relief funds to help schools handle the pandemic.

Pat Ryan, a spokesperson for Berger's office says, "I'm unaware of any substantive input the Durham Association of Educators provided during that process. It makes little sense that a branch of the NCAE would wait until after session has already concluded to share their thoughts on legislation that passed two months ago."

DPS says they hope its reopen guidelines will just be for the first half of the school year but it depends on people helping to flatten the curve by following the 3 W's: washing their hands, waiting six feet apart and wearing a face mask.

Year-round schools resume August 3. Traditional schools start on August 17.
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