BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell-Statesville Schools will resume five days of in-person learning for elementary students starting on Monday, October 5, after the school board heard the plan from district leaders on Thursday afternoon during a special meeting.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced last month that elementary schools around the state would be allowed the option to switch to “Plan A” instruction, which reduces social distancing requirements in classrooms.
Under Plan A, more students are allowed back into the classrooms at one time with safety protocols such as, temperature checks, and mandatory mask use.
However, the new plan doesn’t apply to students in middle and high school. Students in grades 6-12 will continue under a hybrid plan of in-person and remote instruction.
“We are excited to welcome back all elementary school students five days a week. We felt it best, the board and I, to bring the kids back providing a safe environment,” said Superintendent Jeff James.
James is an advocate for the reopening of schools, but he emphasized that he wants to keep them open safely.
“Going back to school face-to-face is what is best for our children,” James said. “You can’t argue it. The data supports it.”
“In my opinion, you are going to do more harm educationally the longer you are out,” he added.
James mentioned that COVID-19 school closures will have an impact on student academics. He said that educators are aware that coronavirus-related learning loss could widen some achievement gaps when students return to school.
“You can’t just rubber stamp these children and say you are going to the next grade level without the prerequisite skills.”
They will fail the next grade, James explained.
According to James, there has been zero transfer of coronavirus from a student to a staff member. He said that between students it’s been 1/3 of 1 percent from student to student.
Executive Director of Elementary Education Jonathan Ribbeck thanked everyone in the system who has played a part in supporting students and families during this challenging time.
Beginning October 5, elementary families must choose Plan A (attend school five days a week) or Plan C (all virtual learning).
Starting next week, there will be around 1,843 students, or 23-percent of K-5, who will be virtual.
After October 5, families will not be able to switch between Plan A and C until the beginning of the second semester, which begins on January 5, 2021.
“If families do choose virtual, we are asking them to remain virtual until the end of the semester — unless the principal decides differently,” Ribbeck explained.
“This is to help with our planning. Right now, there are classes that are very full,” he added.
The state class size mandate for elementary schools, requires K-3 classrooms to remain under 21 students in a classroom.
“The best thing about Plan A is that the (in-person) teachers will no longer have to provide remote instruction. They won’t have to worry about the students when they aren’t in the building,” Ribbeck said.
The biggest frustration, he said, was juggling in-person and remote instruction.
Schools are already planning on how to close learning gaps.
“We will have to catch up students as quickly and as effectively as we can. We are preparing for that. We have completed our beginning-of-the-year assessments and I Ready assessments for reading and math,” Ribbeck said.
He said third-graders will be given a grade level assessment, which will help teachers identify areas where students may need small group or individual attention.
Additionally, I-SS will receive Jumpstart funds to help catch up students who have gaps or have missed considerable amounts of instruction in second and third grades. Each school has 31 hours of tutoring.
According to Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Athletics Richard Armstrong, busing will look at lot like it has under Plan B. There will be more than one student in a seat in some cases.
A seating chart is key, he said. “They will stick to that seating chart every day in case there is an outbreak we know who is on the bus and where they are sitting,” he added.
Buses will also begin dropping students off at Boys & Girls Club and other after school locations.
None of the elementary school buses is near capacity, which is 72 seats. The largest capacity is at 48 students as of yesterday, Armstrong said.
Cleaning procedures and new level of protection
According to Kenny Miller, assistant superintendent of Facilities and Planning, the district is focused on cleaning and sanitizing buses and classrooms in preparation for more students to head back into the classroom Monday.
Miller said the district spent $22,000 using coronavirus funds on a cleaning product called Surface Guard, an Environmental Protection Agency-approved product that protects against germs, for use in elementary buses and classrooms and playground equipment.
It’s electrostatically applied and it adheres to the surface once it dries.
“It will last on the surface up to 90 days,” Miller said. “General cleaning, soap and water will not take it off.”
He said that middle and high schools will also receive Surface Guard, but the focus is on elementary schools for the time being.
James said that one challenge with reopening is that schools must still follow public health agencies recommendation for quarantine for 14 days during an outbreak.
He said that if multiple teaches are required to quarantine for 14 days it will stretch the district’s ability to continue providing in-person instruction.
Note: The school board did not vote to accept the district’s plan since it dealt with curriculum. However, they were all unanimous in their support to open five days a week.