Orange County Schools opts for more strict COVID-19 rules; will begin with only online classes

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Schools in the Triangle are considering moving to all online classes for the upcoming school year.

Orange County School Board met Thursday morning and unanimously agreed to spend at least the first four weeks of the 2020-2021 school year with only virtual classes.

Superintendent Dr. Monique Felder began the meeting with her recommendation for moving all classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"(I am) recommending that while we continue to work toward Plan B--and we will be ready for Plan B--given the state of COVID-19 in this county at this time, we pivot to Plan C, remote learning, and reassess the status of COVID-19 in the district in a few weeks, in order to determine at that time if we are in a position to shift to Plan B," Felder said.

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All school board members who spoke during Thursday's meeting agreed that the school year should start with no students in physical classrooms. However, disagreement began when they started talking about specifics.

A major point of contention was how long Orange County Schools should be online only and what would the board want to see before allowing students and teachers back into school buildings.

"In a district that closes for snow flurries, I just have a personal, difficult time justifying asking our staff to work during a deadly serious pandemic," Orange County School Board Chair Hillary MacKenzie said.

School board members debated between being online only for the first four weeks or the first nine. Ultimately they voted unanimously on a motion to be online only for "at least the first four weeks," with a caveat that they would meet again Monday.

In Monday's meeting, the board is supposed to talk about the specific measures they want to see before bringing students and teachers back into the classroom. All board members agreed that the school district may remain in Plan C for longer than the first four weeks.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced earlier this week that school districts would be allowed to have a mix of in-person and online education but could also go exclusively online if they so chose.

Orange County Schools is just one local school district considering a more stringent approach to learning during the pandemic.

MacKenzie said she planned to communicate with leaders of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, which is set to meet later Thursday on the same topic. MacKenzie said she thought it would be beneficial if both school districts were on the same page and had schedule's that matched up.

Durham Public Schools also has a meeting scheduled Thursday afternoon where leaders will discuss the same dilemma.

Stay with ABC11 for updates on your child's school district's plan for the 2020-2021 school year.
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