The Dare County Board of Education will hold a special meeting on Oct. 2 to determine how to move forward with school operations after the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year, which began on Aug. 17 with remote learning for all students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Board Chair Bea Basnight made the recommendation at the board’s Sept. 8 meeting, noting that the October meeting will be dedicated to discussing possibilities of returning to in-person instruction or a hybrid model following the conclusion of the Oct. 28 grading period, giving staff time to “make arrangements for whatever plan we want to take.”
After agreeing to the early October meeting, Board Member Harvey Hess made a motion later in the meeting calling for all K-5 students, as well as those students in the Exceptional Children’s (EC) program, to return to in-school instruction five days a week beginning on Sept. 28. The motion, which was seconded by Joe Tauber, failed, with the remaining five board members voting against it.
That was the same 5-2 margin that prevailed on July 20 when the board opted to open the school year with remote learning for every student, with Hess and Tauber in the minority.
As part of Hess’s Sept. 8 motion, consideration would have been given to the return of 6-12 grade students at the next board meeting following the Sept. 28 start date for the younger cohort. “I think we can move faster on getting our kids back in school,” asserted Hess on Sept. 8, suggesting his position aligns with that of the Centers for Disease Control and the National Academy of Sciences. “We’ve got three weeks from now to get school in motion and I think that’s more than sufficient time.”
Other board members, while acknowledging that face-to-face instruction is better than remote learning, argued that rushing to open school buildings prematurely would not be prudent. Referring to Hess’s suggested Sept. 28 opening, Board Member David Twiddy said, “That’s four days before the meeting we have [scheduled] to talk about a better plan than just coming up tonight and saying we are going to go with school opening.”
For her part, board member Mary Ellon Ballance asserted, “Three weeks seems like a long time, but there are a lot of components to make sure that comes off unhinged.”
In response to questions by board members, Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly said the July directive from the board was for remote learning through Oct. 23, which was what the district administration has planned for. The difficulty with the Sept. 28 opening date for K-5 and EC students, he added, would include staffing and transportation issues that would have to be resolved in a short amount of time.
“If we were to have all K-5 students and children in EC program being served five days a week, then we would be in elementary, middle and high school buildings and moving kids out of their attendance zone in order to serve them effectively,” Farrelly said during the meeting. “And it’s still not clear to me the concept [in Hess’s motion] of trying to plan for 6-12, what that actually looks like, so it is hard to speak to.”
Prior to the vote, Hess stated that, “I believe we can do this, I believe we owe it to the students of Dare County …I know everyone here wants the best for our students and our community, but I think we can move faster than this.”
In response, Chair Basnight noted, “I think you are right, Mr. Hess, in that everyone here wants what is best for our children. I think as a teacher, and as parents and grandparents here, we all know in-person learning is best. But we want to do it in the right way, the safe way and in a way that is planned so that we have success.”