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Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to open remotely this fall


DTH Photo Illustration. With the closing of all public schools due to COVID-19, students in CHCCS and OCS face a new struggle: remote learning. Students are now completing schoolwork and studying at home. 

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education decided students will learn remotely for the first nine weeks of the fall semester at a July 16 meeting, following community backlash on a previous presentation that would favor hybrid education.

The decision comes two days after Gov. Roy Cooper announced schools would be able to open either under Plan B, which would include both online and in-person instruction, or Plan C, with completely remote instruction. 

Just a week earlier, the Board met to consider its plan for hybrid education under Plan B. Since that meeting, Board Chairperson Mary Ann Wolf said hundreds of students, parents and staff members expressed concerns about the hybrid proposal.

Interim Superintendent Jim Causby said his recommendation to open under Plan C comes in light of this feedback and rising COVID-19 cases in Orange County and across the state — but despite its necessity, he said, it is not ideal.

“This is not a decision I want to make,” Causby said. “There are two other options that I’d certainly prefer.”

Causby referenced the looming return of thousands of UNC students to Orange County in August as another point of concern for the district and the entire Chapel Hill-Carrboro community, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to rise among young people.

Under the Board's remote learning plan, which was presented by Assistant Superintendent Jessica Donovan, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools would each have different scheduling to fit age-appropriate needs.

In a sample elementary school schedule provided by the district, students would attend literacy, math, science and social studies each day except Wednesday, with a one-hour "device-free" lunch, two hours of asynchronous learning and 30 minutes for "specials," such as art and music, built into the daily schedule. 

As per a sample middle school schedule, each core class of math, ELA, social studies and science will meet twice a week. After each core class, there would be time built in for asynchronous learning, service delivery or a guided study hall.

Under the sample plan for seven-period-style high schools, such as East Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill high schools, each class would meet twice a week, with time scheduled for asynchronous learning, service delivery and guided study hall. The one-hour lunch would also serve as time for clubs and affinity groups to meet. 

Under this plan, students on block scheduling will be attending each of their four classes twice a week with time scheduled in for asynchronous learning, service delivery and guided study hall and a similarly organized lunch and club/affinity group combination. 

All schools would have Wednesday as a "Flex Day" with live small group support, independent practice and choice activities. 

As in a normal school year, attendance would be recorded in Power Schools, O'Donovan said. Board member Ashton Powell brought up concerns that lack of flexibility in attendance-taking may negatively affect students who miss class due to externalities caused by COVID-19. 

“What I am worried about is if we are trying to fit our normal understanding of what we should be trying to teach the kids over the course of the year in a setting where it’s brand new to everyone,” Powell said. “There are going to be deaths, likely in the community. There are likely to be mass amounts of unemployment."

O’Donavan said attendance, taken by work done and class attended the previous day, will be recorded each morning. Work will be due at midnight to accommodate conflicts with class and make sure students can still receive credit for work even if they miss class.

"By state law, we cannot simply mark a student absent solely for not showing up to a live session," O'Donovan said. "It’s also about work completed.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools joins Durham Public Schools and Orange County Schools, who also announced plans for remote reentry last week. OCS will meet tomorrow night to discuss its plans to reopen in more detail, but it is currently slated to remain remote until at least September.

At the meeting, Causby said when he spoke to Wake County Public School System Superintendent Cathy Moore earlier that day, she said the district was also highly considering opening online.

“I have almost become convinced that in systems like ours, and others in the central part of the state, it’s almost impossible to do Plan B," Causby said. 


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