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Gates County classrooms to reopen

GATESVILLE – The majority of students enrolled in Gates County Public Schools will return to the classroom next month for face-to-face instruction.

On Monday of this week, the Gates County Board of Education, in a special called meeting, approved two plans, both of which will begin with the start of the third, nine-weeks grading period. Effective Jan. 6, elementary schools will transition to Plan A (in class four days per week). The middle school and the high school will transition to Plan B (two days in school; two days of virtual/remote learning), with Jan. 6-8 serving as orientation days for students and instruction beginning Jan. 12.

This week’s action by the school board comes at a time when the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising in the county. As of Dec. 4, Albemarle Regional Health Services reported 32 active cases of the virus in Gates County. There have been six COVID-related deaths over the last two weeks in the county, bringing the total to 11. At the end of October, Gates County reported a total of three COVID-related deaths.

“I continue to believe that with the case counts [rising] we’re going into a deeper hole than we’ve been in,” said Gates County School Board Chairman Ray Felton, who voted in favor of the plans despite citing health and safety concerns. “I’m very concerned about us losing teachers [because of the decision to return to class].”

All five school board members voted in favor of both plans.

“The board feels they needed to address the loss of instruction that our students have experienced during this pandemic; they didn’t want to see our students get further and further behind,” Dr. Williams noted. “The board feels that with the health and wellness protocols we have put in place with these plans that our students and staff will be okay by following those guidelines, such as requiring face coverings at all times, washing their hands frequently, maintaining six feet or more of social distancing, and frequent cleaning/sanitizing high traffic areas.”

Williams added that the Board of Education held a work session where the plans were presented by district and school administration.

“We are prepared to move forward with face-to-face instruction with the remote learning only option for those parents choosing not to allow their children to return to class,” Dr. Williams explained.

The current plans are as follows:

Elementary students will have face-to-face instruction four days per week (Tuesday through Friday).

Middle school and high school students will have face-to-face instruction two days per week with virtual/remote instruction two days per week. Students in grades 6 through 12 will be divided into two groups, Group A and Group B.

On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Group A will have face-to-face instruction at school while Group B will receive virtual/remote learning. Those two groups will switch places on Thursdays and Fridays.

Mondays will be a professional development and planning day for teachers as well as a time for remediation and small group instruction as needed.

School bus transportation will be provided for all who choose to ride a school bus.

Meals will be provided at school to students in attendance. Elementary students choosing remote learning only will continue to have meals delivered to their home by a school bus.

Middle and high school students on virtual/remote days and remote learning only students will have meals available for pick-up at the schools. After the first two weeks, an evaluation will be conducted to determine if meal delivery by school bus will be possible for middle and high school students.

Moving Forward Learning Options

“Over the past month, information has been shared with and collected from families regarding their intent for their student’s learning option if the school district moves to Plan A for the elementary and Plan B for the middle and high school,” Dr. Williams stated.

At Buckland Elementary, the parents of 163 students chose the face-to-face instruction option, while 65 students will remain on the virtual/remote learning plan according to their parents. Two Buckland teachers have requested to only offer virtual instruction.

The response at T.S. Cooper Elementary was 122 students for face-to-face instruction and 67 for virtual/remote learning. No teachers opted out of face-to-face instruction.

Gatesville Elementary will see 157 students back in the classroom while 64 will remain with the virtual/remote plan. The parents of 37 students have not responded. None of the teachers at Gatesville Elementary chose the virtual/remote only plan.

At Central Middle School, the numbers were 147 students opting for face-to-face instruction and 65 remaining on the virtual/remote plan. The parents of 146 students have yet to make a choice. Seven teachers have requested to only offer virtual/remote instruction.

No teachers have opted out at Gates County High School, where 212 students will return to class while 99 have opted for virtual/remote learning. There are 128 other students whose parents have not chosen either plan.

For the parents who have chosen face-to-face instruction, 370 of those students will require bus transportation while 429 will arrive at school by other means.

“We still have several middle and high school parents who have not completed the Learning Option form for their child. This is extremely important for planning purposes and I urge parents to contact the schools as soon as possible with this information,” Dr. Williams stressed.

At all three of the elementary schools, the buses will be able to accommodate the number of children requesting to ride the bus with one route and social distancing. However, Gatesville Elementary only has one bus driver at this time assigned to the school.

There are enough buses assigned to Central Middle to cover the number of students requesting to ride the bus with one route and social distancing. Currently, CMS has seven, two of which will more than likely be available for other coverages/shortages.

Gates County High School will only need four buses to cover the number of students requesting to ride the bus with one route and social distancing. There are six buses assigned to the high school. Two drivers may be moved temporarily to Gatesville Elementary to cover their shortage.

Health & Wellness

All students, staff members and visitors must wear a cloth face covering (facemask) in school buildings and on school buses.

At each of the elementary schools, staff members will be posted at parent drop off/ pickup to take temperatures while students are still in the car and to get the attestation forms. Students who are school bus riders will have a signed attestation ticket to board the bus. Staff members will be at

the bus drop off location to take temperatures and gather attestation forms from the bus drivers.

Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten and first grade students will have breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria, all socially distanced. Second through fifth graders will have breakfast and lunch delivered to them in the classroom.

To keep students from crowding in hallways, one class will transition at the time to take bathroom breaks, go to recess, and leave for the day to board the buses. There are stickers on the floors six feet apart and the hallways are wide enough to have students on stickers on both sides of the hallway and still maintain social distancing.

Teachers will have the chemicals needed to disinfect high contact areas in the classroom throughout the day. Custodians will have a schedule for cleaning bathrooms and touch points around the school on a continuous basis.

At the middle and high schools there will be temperature checks and wellness attestations for staff and students daily. There will be social distancing in the classroom, hallways and buses. Face coverings must be worn except during lunch and mask breaks. Breakfast and lunch will be in the classrooms.

One-way hallways will be used to minimize students crossing paths. Directional signs will direct students which way to go down the hallway.

Custodians will wipe down touch points between classes. Classrooms will be cleaned and sanitized each day following face-to-face instruction.

Students will dismiss by grade level into the gym at staggered times (3 minutes apart), in the gym they will find their bus line and stand on floor markers 6 feet apart from one another until their bus is called to be loaded. One bus will be loaded and dismissed at a time.

Complete details about Plan A and Plan B are posted on the district and school websites and school administrators will share specific details with staff at each school.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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