On November 30, 2020 the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district announced a plan for students to potentially return to in-person learning, with both hybrid and remote learning options available.
Plan B is what the CHCCS district was going to implement at the beginning of the school year, before the decision to go completely virtual was made. Students and their families had to make the decision between staying remote or returning to part-time in-person learning by December 6, 2020.
Remote learning is what students and teachers have been doing since the beginning of the school year in August. Students have four classes meeting twice a week synchronously, with Wednesday being completely asynchronous. Hybrid learning would follow a similar structure. Those who chose the hybrid option would be sorted into two cohorts that attend on different days. Cohort A would be in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays while Cohort B would be in-person on Thursdays and Fridays. While not in the building, students would be connected virtually, like those who have chosen to remain remote.
Plan B incorporates safety measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Students will have to complete a health screening before entering the school building to make sure they have no symptoms that could endanger their peers. To comply with the CDC’s guidelines for safety, students and teachers will have to stay six feet apart at all times. Teachers and staff will clean surfaces that are frequently touched several times throughout the day and the district will replace air filters to ensure proper air flow within the school buildings.
Despite these precautions outlined in the plan, on December 17, 2020, the CHCCS school board decided to postpone their decision. At the meeting, the board decided to push back the implementation of Plan B due to current Covid-19 conditions and the lack of teacher support for the plan. The plan will be revisited during a future board meeting on January 21, potentially allowing Plan B to go into effect during March. There will be a five-week gap between when the board approves the plan and when students and staff begin returning to school. This is so that the school can prepare various accommodations, such as modified bus routes and PPE.
Cases of Covid-19 are increasing in North Carolina and across the country and states saw surges after groups gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving in November. Because the previous board meeting was before winter break, members didn’t feel comfortable making a decision without seeing the number of cases that rose due to travel and gatherings for the holidays, numbers which weren’t available until after the break ended.
Another major reason the decision was delayed was the lack of support from teachers across the district who didn’t feel comfortable returning to in-person learning. Many teachers, including Lisa Rubenstein, CHS English teacher, felt as though their safety wasn’t being taken into consideration as much as it should have been.
“Even when I’ve talked to parents, parents who are eager to get their kids back in school because they know that their kids don’t have a chance of getting sick, because kids have less of a chance of getting sick, teachers don’t even come into that conversation,” said Rubenstein.
Another concern that teachers have is that returning to in-person classes wouldn’t change the way students are learning, since the format of classes would be the same, as some students would be connecting from home.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen any evidence that the actual teaching and learning part is going to be better than what I’m currently doing in my office, sitting right here,” said Jamie Fernandez-Schendt, CHS social studies teacher.
Despite the fact that students won’t be able to interact closely with their peers and teachers, many feel that the social aspect of school would be heightened by being able to return in person.
“I learn better in person, I have a really hard time keeping attention online, it’s difficult. The best parts of school are the social interactions and that’s completely impossible online,” said Aidan Crosby, CHS senior.
CHS Principal Beverly Rudolph acknowledges that returning to school would be beneficial to many students in terms of social interaction.
“I err on the side of safety always but I am cognizant of kids who are suffering by not being in our building and not seeing people, and I do worry about them,” said Rudolph.
Fernandez-Schendt feels that the school could be used in more effective and safer ways for students to interact instead of returning to in-person learning.
“I would like us to keep our teaching online and then think creatively about how we could use the school building for student interactions,” he said.
Despite the beginning of vaccine distribution in North Carolina, it isn’t likely that the distribution will reach everyone before the end of the school year, due to limited access to vaccine supplies. North Carolina has over 600,000 cases of Covid according to the CDC, with records continuing to be broken as cases rise.
“We’re in one of the best counties, but as a state overall we’re doing pretty poorly with Covid. So going in person now would definitely be dangerous. Good on [the school board] for postponing [the decision],” said Crosby.
Online learning has been difficult for everyone involved and most agree that in person school is significantly more effective and personal. While it may be hard to continue to learn online, know that your fellow students and teachers are there to support you and help you succeed.
“I want nothing more than to teach in person. The reason that I became a teacher is so that I can hang out with teenagers and everyday the highlight of my day is hanging out with teenagers, even though they’re online. I would love nothing more than to hang out with them in person but I don’t think that we should be sacrificing our lives for the opportunity to do that,” said Rubenstein.
The CHCCS school board will meet virtually on January 21, 2021 to discuss the potential transition to in-person schooling.