As some students return Monday, Durham schools anticipate seamless transition to Plan A next month

COVID-19 and schools

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Durham school leaders are prepared to welcome back about half of their elementary student population for in-person learning on Monday as the district will move to Plan B.

Under that plan, elementary students will be given the option to return for in-person learning on March 15, and middle and high school students can return on April 8.

According to a recent district survey, 7,354 students in grades kindergarten through 5th grade opted to return to in-person learning, which is about half of the elementary student population.

Elementary students will attend class in-person Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The students will be remote one day a week as part of what they are calling “Wellness Wednesday.”

The district has set up screening stations at the entrance of every school and sidewalk markings are out to ensure students stand six feet apart.

In the halls, there are also arrows that show students which way they can walk and most classrooms only allow up to 15 students.

In the classrooms, desks are six feet apart and students will have their own school supplies so they won’t be sharing with anyone.

The transition to Plan B comes as Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021 that requires all elementary school schools move to Plan A within 21 days of him signing the bill, which gives schools a deadline of April 1.

Under the bill, elementary schools will be required to go to full-time in-person learning, but it says the district can use remote days if needed for deep cleaning.

Also under Plan A, six feet social distancing is recommended but no longer required in schools.

Some Durham parents are concerned about what this will mean for their children who are going back to in-person learning.

“My first thought was, how is that going to happen?” said Anca Stefan, a Durham parent and educator.

Stefan said her daughter who is in the third grade will be returning to school for in-person learning on Monday.

She said she would rather her daughter learn from home, but since she and her daughter’s father are both educators, they will also be going back to the classroom and so her daughter can no longer learn from home.

Stefan is concerned about what school will look like for her daughter when the district returns to Plan A.

“I’m very concerned this is all very rushed, that this is not well thought through, that some men in suits in Raleigh said ‘this is what’s happening’ and it just magically becomes reality,” Stefan said. “That’s not how this goes.”

But Durham school officials said after consulting with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and their attorneys, that their current guidelines are in compliance with Plan A.

“We’ve been told that the way we are operating with four days in person, with our social distancing under Plan B moving forward, that we are currently in accordance with what’s required of us,” said Casey Watson, a spokesperson for Durham Public Schools.

Watson said since the bill still allows for students to learn virtually, the population of students learning in person during Plan B will not change when the district transitions to Plan A.

Watson said it is will be a seamless transition and students who are currently learning in-person will not notice a difference.

The Durham School Board will have to vote to officially move elementary schools to Plan A and that could happen at their next meeting which is set for March 26.

Also, the Reopen Our Schools Act requires school districts to allow special needs children of all ages to come back for in-person learning. Durham school leaders said they are working to make accommodations for those students.

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