Wake County School Board opts to begin year online-only, then transition into mix of in-person learning

Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Wake County School Board opts to begin year online-only, then transition into mix of in-person learning
Wake County School Board opts to begin year online-only, then transition into mix of in-person learning

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- In a news conference Tuesday, Wake County Public School System School Board unanimously voted to adopt a reopening plan called Plan B Transition, meaning students will start the school year online, then eventually transition to some in-person classes at a time to be decided later.

Superintendent Cathy Moore proposed the plan earlier in the meeting.

"We are not sure how long we will remain in online instruction," Moore said.

Under Moore's plan, all students will begin their classes online. Pre-K students and Regional Programs students, including some special education students, will begin daily in-person classes as early as practical, with a target date of that transition being September 8. All other students will transition to blended in-person and online education as current COVID-19 metrics warrant.

Wake County School Board opts to begin year online-only, then transition into mix of in-person learning

"We do believe that this pivot, this shift in Plan B, will allow us to implement a slower and more strategic reopen and reentry of students into our schools," Moore said.

"We are all people. We are all human. We're going to make decisions, and sometimes those decisions will change, and I hope that people will understand that we are changing our decisions based on the information that is in front of us and the information that we are hearing from you all," board member Monika Johnson-Hostler said during her opening remarks.

Under the Plan B Transition program, the first two weeks of class will be dedicated to orientation, meet and greet, and distribution of school supplies.

It has not yet been determined if that orientation and meet and greet would happen in person.

"We're struggling with the fact that we know that it is important to see and know their teachers and schools, and yet also wanting to maintain the key features of prioritizing the safety and health and well-being of our students and our staff and all," Moore said. "It is contemplated; it is possible but it is not yet determined because we still have some work to do with our school populations, our principals, and staff before we could actually commit to anything like that."

When asked how long classes would only be held online in Plan B Transition, Moore said there was not a simple answer to that.

She said school leaders would be looking at guidance from state and local health leaders about what is safe. She also said schools would need time to make sure they had all the materials needed to safely execute in-person education.

"We're not putting a clock on the online (classes). We know that other districts have. We don't want to rush into this. Nevertheless we want to acknowledge that we know that it is important for both staff and students to get back into the building. We're on both sides of this," Moore said.

"This seems like a good approach and I appreciate the fact that Wake County schools wants to make it a priority and says it's a priority to get back into the classroom," said Keith Poston, president of Wake Ed Partnership. "I think of it as a rolling start as a way to get us going, get the orientation, get the teachers and staff in place, get the Virtual Academy up and running, get the virtual learning going and then move back when it's safe."

Poston said Wake Ed Partnership is working closely with WCPSS, YMCA of the Triangle and Raleigh on the new initiative to provide an academic setting in childcare for working families.

"We'll eventually get back to school where we need to be, it's where our school leaders want to be, it's where our teachers want to be, it's where our kids want to be, we'll get there," said Poston.

"It's not a permanent online situation, we're looking after Labor Day looking to phase in some students starting with our Pre-K and regional special ed programs on September 8th."said Keith Sutton, Chairman of the Wake County School Board. "It is our goal to get students back into the building face to face as soon as possible but again doing so while it's practical, healthy and reasonable to do so."

The county said it intends to hold students more accountable with the online curriculum, saying they didn't have the time in it as much as possible in March when it was rushed out.

Julia Findley has a rising third grader at Cary Elementary and rising sixth grader at East Cary Middle School. She made the choice to do online learning and today's decision made her confident in that path.

"I think they're right to focus on the younger kids first because I think they're the least able to focus on online learning," said Findley. "I have the ability: I realized I'm in a fairly privileged position that I can be a stay-at-home mom for a few more months, not everybody has that."

Technology in Plan B Transition

Parents will be asked soon to fill out a survey. WCPSS will give each family a week to fill out the survey. When that week is up, the district will reach out to families in an effort to get a response.

The response to the survey will help the district better plan its technology roll out.

Device distribution will begin in August.

The district will set up pickup points and organize dates with families to get the devices needed for the school year. Quick orientation for how to use the devices will be set up at the pickup locations.

WCPSS is also developing "How to guides" specifically for parents, students and teachers.

Child Care in Plan B Transition

If the proposal is approved, all staff with K-6 children will receive childcare at no cost when they return to work.

Cost-free options for staff members with PreK children are being worked on as well.

For non-staff members, the district is working on child care options with price points from free to below-market rates. These child care options will not be designed for all parents, but will exist as an option for families that need it.

Food Service in Plan B Transition

All students will get free meals up to August 31.

The district is working on plans to have strategic distribution sites for meals throughout the county. Those meals would be available for all students taking online classes.

When students return to in-person classes, there will be three service options available: cafe service, hallway kiosk, classroom delivery. The principal at each school will determine which type of food service option will happen at their school.

How we got to this point

Friday, School Board Chairman Keith Sutton said he was strongly considering the Plan C, or full-time remote learning, option as outlined by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Several neighboring school districts, including Chatham County Schools, Orange County Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, Durham Public Schools and Cumberland County Schools have already opted to pursue Plan C education for at least the first few weeks of the school year.

WATCH: Your Wake County Public Schools reopening plan questions answered here

Many parents and guardians of the state's largest school district are anxious about COVID-19 safety at school and immediately took to social medial with questions concerning what the new school year will look like under the pandemic.

In a news conference last week, Gov. Roy Cooper said all North Carolina school districts could reopen under his Plan B option, a blend of in-person and remote learning for the 2020-2021 school year. However, Cooper said districts could choose full-time remote learning, should parents, teachers and school staff feel that was the best option for students given the current level of COVID-19 in North Carolina.

RELATED: Teachers 'overwhelmingly' uncomfortable with current Plan B approach, Wake NCAE president says

Previously, Wake County Public School System announced its plan to rotate students on a three week schedule, with students in the classroom for one week and learning from home for two. However, it is unclear if this is the "Plan B" modality that the district will employ once students are allowed to resume some in-person classes. School board members and district leaders are expected to continue to discuss what blended in-person and online education will look like for Wake County and will communicate any changes to parents, teachers and school staff. Parents also had the option to enroll their child in WCPSS's Virtual Academy for full-time online instruction.

WATCH: Expert tips for sending your child back to school during a pandemic

Eyewitness News talked with the experts who are providing tips on preparing your family for the transition into what will be a very different school experience from years past.

Changes to Virtual Academy

As of Tuesday morning, 78,792 students had enrolled in the Virtual Academy, including 35,500 elementary school students, 19,700 middle school students and 23,500 high school students.

Do you have questions about sending your child back to school? Let us know.

Though the initial deadline to enroll in the remote learning program was Monday, the district said another application window would open if Plan B Transition was approved from July 27 to July 29. Parents can also un-register during this time if they already enrolled, or switch between the fall-only and full-year options.

Drew Cook, Wake County's Assistant Superintendent for Academics, said students regardless of whether they are following Plan B Transition instruction or classes through the Wake County Virtual Academy will receive the same level of education.

"To put it simply, our parents do not want to repeat the online experience they had last spring, and neither do we," Cook said.

All students will be graded and attendance will be taken. Additionally, students will have a more consistent online learning platform, and teachers will be given more lessons and resources for developing their online curriculum.

Cook said parents who want their child to have in-person learning as soon as possible should choose Plan B, but parents who want to have a consistent learning environment for their child throughout the fall semester or school year should choose the Virtual Academy.

School Calendar

Wake County schools on the traditional school year and year-round calendar are set to begin August 17. Schools on the modified school year calendar are set to begin August 13, and some Early College schools are scheduled to start August 3.

While several school board members inquired about obtaining additional work days for teachrs so they could adjust to the transition from online to in-person classes, Moore said any changes to teacher calendars could affect student calendars, and any additional work days would need to be planned such that students still receive the number of instructional hours mandated by state law. She added that teachers will have additional time to plan for their classes during the two-week orientation period at the beginning of the year.