The Cabarrus County Board of Education voted 5-2 to move into Plan A (full in-person education) for Pre-K through third grade on Feb. 16 at Saturday’s Mid-Year Planning Session.
Additionally, the vote set a date of March 15 for the return of fourth- and fifth-grade students in Plan A.
The Board of Education wanted to set a date for a return for fourth and fifth graders to give the district a time to aim for, but it also included the caveat that if the metrics aren't where they need to be, board members will change the plan.
The board didn't want to catch schools off-guard and wanted to give them enough time to plan for the potential adjustment.
Also with this vote, all children classified as EC, ELL, 504 and McKinney-Vento will be able to come back four days a week in Plan A.
Carolyn Carpenter and Rob Walter voted against the motion, while Holly Grimsley, Laura Blackwell, Keshia Sandidge, Denise Adcock and Tim Furr voted in favor.
When the board began discussing the current plan the district was in, it became quickly clear that a move to Plan A was what several board members wanted.
Blackwell, Furr, Adcock and Sandidge all expressed interest in a move to Plan A.
“After hearing some of the information from the task force, I definitely think that we are trending in the right direction to be able to move to Plan A (for) K through 3,” Blackwell said. “I am absolutely 100% on board with — I know (Superintendent) Dr. (Chris) Lowder had mentioned Feb. 16 when we were discussing this (earlier) in January would be enough time for him to put this plan in place if we wanted to continue on and move from our current situation in Plan B to Plan A.
“I know there had been some discussion whether we’re going to do K through 3, K through 5, and based on what the task force said, we should start in increments, which I’m completely fine with.”
Carpenter voted for a move to Plan C at a meeting two weeks ago and remains steadfast in that opinion.
“I think you’re jumping the gun,” she said. “You don’t know where the teachers and staff are going to be on their vaccinations, you don’t know what the numbers or stats are going to be or anything like that, and again, without that information … I cannot agree with it.”
Walter has been in favor of a move to Plan A in recent meetings, but he said they needed to get a few things ironed out before making that move. The board received recommendations from the task force Saturday — not quite official ones yet, they have to go through some editing — and Walter still wanted some questions answered before he would vote to move into Plan A.
Lowder said he would not recommend a move to Plan A as that is not currently the recommendation from the Cabarrus Health Alliance. According to the Health Alliance, which takes its guidance from the state, counties with infection rates about 10% should consider moves to Plan C. Cabarrus County’s infection rate currently sits at 13%, but it has gone down nearly 5% over the last few weeks.
That recommendation was handed down by the state in November when there were only a few counties with infection rates that high. Just about every county in North Carolina now has an infection rate above 10%, and just two weeks ago Gov. Roy Cooper defended the decision to allow elementary schools to open in Plan A and all other levels to be open in Plan B.
Lowder said he believes the district should be operating in Plan C; however, he did say at Saturday’s meeting that he believes they can make it work, especially at the lower levels of elementary school, because social distancing will be easier.
It won’t be a necessarily seamless transition to Plan A with social distancing, though, as there will be challenges that come along with it. One teacher who was in attendance at a demonstration before the meeting spoke about the challenges of a move to Plan A in her second-grade classroom.
“In Plan A, we will not be able to social distance if there’s more than nine students in my classroom,” said Meredith Newman, a second-grade teacher at Patriots STEM Elementary. “Realistically, do we think more than nine students will come back if they can come to school four days a week? Let’s be practical about that.”
Classrooms from Pre-K through third grade average around 20 to possibly 25 students across the district. Nearly 70% of elementary school parents responded in a survey conducted by the district that they would send their students to school in either Plan A or Plan B just three weeks ago.
Numbers like this — which are far from concrete because no parents have officially committed to returning in Plan A yet because the district has not given that option — concern teachers like Newman.
“We just need more information,” she said. “We’re not asking to stay home, and teachers have been called lazy and selfish, it’s not about that. None of us got into this because we’re selfish. Nobody is in this for the paycheck or the fame or anything like that.
“The sacrifices of teachers have been so glorified in the news, every single night there seems like there’s a teacher teaching from their COVID ICU bed or from their Humvee at the Capitol because they’re deployed with the National Guard, and our lives are important. They’re just as important as an accountant or a dentist or any other profession. We’re not asking to be treated specially, we’re just asking to be treated like any other professional.”
The turnaround to move to Plan A will be relatively quick as there will be a little more than three weeks between this meeting and the move, but the district has been making preparations for the change behind the scenes for a while.
Still, while on a smaller scale, the time between Kannapolis City Schools’ decision to move to Plan A from Plan B spanned six weeks, between the governor’s announcement Sept. 17 that a move to Plan A was allowed and to when students were able to get into classrooms in that plan on Nov. 2.