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Monday August 8th

Parents express concerns as CHCCS students return to school

<p>Jillian La Serna, chairperson of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, yields public comments at the board's Aug. 12, 2021 meeting.</p>
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Jillian La Serna, chairperson of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, yields public comments at the board's Aug. 12, 2021 meeting.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is headed back to school next Monday, operating in person five days a week.

But some parents have voiced concerns over the district’s plan to combat the rapidly spreading delta variant. 

“We’re getting no support from the school district which is very disappointing,” Nyssa Rayne, a parent of two CHCCS elementary schoolers, said.

CHCCS COVID-19 Protocols 

Over the past couple of weeks, CHCCS has sent emails to parents outlining school protocols for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Masks will be required indoors and outdoors for both students and staff, Jeff Nash, chief communications officer for CHCCS, said.

District guidance encourages students and staff to self-screen for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to school. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, chills, congestion, loss of taste/smell, new cough, shortness of breath, etc. 

CHCCS plans to practice social distancing, but Nash said with more students in the classroom, keeping students 6-feet apart will be difficult.

“That’s going to be a bigger challenge this year,” he said. 

If a student has any COVID-like symptoms, they will be moved to monitored isolation until they can be picked up. 

“You have to have a place for anybody who might show any kinds of symptoms,” Nash said.

A negative PCR test or an alternative diagnosis from a primary care provider is required for students sent home with COVID-like symptoms to return to school.

Contact tracing will be used to inform parents if their children have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. School busses will use assigned seats to also support contact tracing. 

If a cluster of students — more than two — are out of school due to quarantine, schools may return to remote learning or other alternative learning arrangements, an email to parents said. The alternative learning arrangements would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Because water fountains will be shut off, the schools will provide a reusable water bottle to students and keep a store of bottled water, extra masks and cleaning supplies, Nash said.

This is not the first time CHCCS is tackling in-person school. Last March, students returned in-person to the classrooms, but in a hybrid format. The daily temperature checks from last year are no longer required.

There were 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19 within CHCCS in the spring. Parents are notified when a case occurs in their school. 

Parent Concerns

Despite the array of guidelines CHCCS has published, parents are still concerned about the start of the new school year. 

CHCCS will be offering a Virtual Learning Academy for grades 9-12 and the enrollment period for those grades has been extended to Aug. 25, but Rayne said that’s not enough. She said there needs to be a virtual learning option for students in grades K-8.

“I’m just super disappointed that there was never a plan in place to do virtual school,” Rayne said. “That doesn’t seem logical when our kids are unvaccinated.”

On Thursday, CHCCS will hold a special meeting to discuss virtual options for younger students in grades K-8. 

The meeting will be held virtually at 6:30 p.m. with options for spoken and written public comment. 

CHCCS parents also have expressed concern over lunch arrangements. 

In the written public comment for the Aug. 12 school board meeting, multiple parents said they were worried about meal times.

“I am significantly concerned about lunch arrangements for the return to school,” Dawn Carter, mother of a first-grader, wrote to the board.

She said she doesn’t want her child to be indoors without a mask, but is open to outdoor eating.

The district has said masks may be removed while actively eating and drinking. An email to parents said that additional picnic tables and tents have been ordered to help promote eating outdoors.

Still, some parents say they want to see more, especially given the rise of the highly contagious delta variant of coronavirus and the inability of children under 12 to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

"This is no longer last year's virus," Cathy Walsh, a McDougle Elementary parent, wrote in an Aug. 12 public comment to the board. "The risk to kids has dramatically changed, and rapid action is needed to prevent large-scale outbreaks and closures."


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