From reduced restrictions regarding COVID-19 to new long-term plans and policies, 2022 represented a return to normal for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
Return from COVID-19
All schools in the district are now in-person at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Masks are no longer required in schools and COVID-19 cases have declined from last spring. Many schools go an entire week without any new positive tests, according to the district's Weekly Case Report.
Parental involvement has also increased in schools in the district this year compared to the last two years.
Sarah Brincefield, president of the Estes Hills Elementary School PTA, said parent volunteers are at the school again and are engaging in a variety of projects including a community garden, a science fair and student wellness initiatives.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to have community involvement in our school and we know our school is stronger for it,” Brincefield said in an email.
New strategic plan
This year, CHCCS also rolled out its new five-year strategic plan, which will be in effect from 2022 until 2027.
The plan provides a roadmap of goals for the district and represents one year’s worth of community input.
CHCCS Chief Communications Officer Andy Jenks said the plan is different from the previous strategic plan that ran from 2013 to 2018 because it clearly articulates certain values the district would like to implement.
“What do we value as a district? That's an important story to tell,” Jenks said.
The values highlighted in the plan are engagement, social justice action, collective efficacy, wellness and joy.
New student safety and academic achievement policies
In addition to this overarching plan, CHCCS spent this year implementing specific new policy measures in areas including student safety and academic achievement.
One example of this is the electronic hall pass system, more commonly known as “e-hall pass." This system was in use for at least one CHCCS school during the 2021-2022 academic year and has since expanded to more schools for the current academic year.
Jenks said this system improves student safety by limiting the number of students in one place at one time and monitoring each individual student’s hall pass use patterns.
Robert Bales, former McDougle Middle School principal and current CHCCS district employee, said the e-hall pass system allows schools to take more specific actions with regard to school discipline.
“This system allowed the schools to pinpoint areas or individuals who needed specific attention instead of acting on a broader scale,” Bales said.
Another policy measure that is currently in place in CHCCS schools is the 50 percent floor on all assignments.
First adopted at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 50 percent floor ensures that students never earn below 50 percent on an assignment.
Jenks said this keeps students motivated and gives them a better chance of recovering from poor grades, adding that 50 percent is still a failing grade.
“You still fail," Jenks said. "It's still a failing grade, but it will allow a student a better chance of recovering and developing momentum throughout the course of a class, a semester, or a school year as a whole in terms of reaching and perhaps exceeding potential."
Some of these policies have attracted criticism from people involved in CHCCS.
Hunter Klosty is a senior at East Chapel Hill High School and serves as vice president of the Student Government Association. He said he is against both the e-hall pass system and the 50 percent floor.
Klosty said the e-hall pass system frequently experiences glitches and targets the entire school instead of a small group of students who misbehave in hallways during class.
“They've implemented this sweeping policy on the whole school to tackle a very small group of kids,” Klosty said.
Jenks said he is aware of the criticism surrounding the e-hall pass system and that CHCCS considers student voice in its policymaking.
“When we're updating policies or crafting policies or creating policies, we need to be sure that student voice is part of that conversation — as staff voice is, as administrator voice is,” Jenks said.
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