Orange County Schools' Board of Education held a special meeting on Monday to discuss the district's return to virtual schooling this fall, including metrics that will be used to determine when children can start returning to the classroom.
For at least the first nine weeks of school, OCS students who don't opt for its completely remote Virtual Academy will learn remotely under Plan C while district leaders monitor the virus. The district will aim to move to Plan B, a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, as soon as it is safe.
If the district moves to Plan B, students in elementary, middle and high schools would attend class Monday through Thursday, with Fridays dedicated to an additional multi-tier peer support. Students would have alternating weeks of online and in-person instruction.
The board also voted to approve a contract for the purchase of a North Carolina standards-based online curriculum to teach students who opt to attend the district's Virtual Academy, an online extension of OCS for any students K-12 who choose to opt in for at least one semester.
The virtual academy program will allow students to stay enrolled in their school, even as other students return to the physical classroom.
Kathleen Dawson, deputy superintendent of OCS, said the board wants to find the least disruptive way for students to continue the school year.
“As we continue to monitor the progress of the virus, we want to have opportunities for families to opt in or out of the Virtual Academy,” Dawson said.
Quintana Stewart, health director for Orange County, introduced the four metrics that OCS will use to inform its decisions when students return to campus.
“We are using these metrics to inform decision-making as we move through the different plans and let students back on site,” Stewart said.
The first metric is the daily number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Orange County. Stewart said Orange County Health Department is able to track where the cases are located.
Other metrics include cumulative case count over a three-week period, trends in the types of COVID-19-like illnesses such as in the influenza in Orange County, and the percent of positive tests out of total tests performed.
Stewart said OCHD recommends OCS and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools create a joint task force to determine a simultaneous reopening of schools.
In a survey administered to parents, as of July 19, 42 percent of 5,221 responses said families prefer an all-virtual program for the return to school. In the same survey, 27 percent of families said their child or someone in the household has health concerns that would prevent them from returning to school and 30 percent of families say they will need breakfast and/or lunch.
The Summer Feeding Program through OCS that provides meals for children under 18 will only run until Aug. 31. Under Plan C, the Department of Public Instruction has applied for a waiver with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue providing meals during the school year.
Monique Felder, superintendent of OCS, introduced the motion to approve providing stipends of $100 for OCS teachers as an incentive to start their pre-service days before the usual three days before the first day of school. The stipend would help teachers attend “Teaching Remotely: A Practical Guide—Units 1-3” before they return to school.
“As a former teacher and principal, whether it’s three days or five days, it’s never enough just in normal circumstances given what we have to do,” Felder said.
There was an additional request of $100 for each of the 64 10-month certified staff who will participate in professional development on the new online curriculum and take the training back to their schools to train teachers and other instructional staff.
The motion to approve both stipends passed, adding a total expenditure of $71,500.
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