The Dare County Board of Education voted 6-1 Friday night to return all grades to virtual learning as COVID-19 cases and quarantines within the school community reached “a breaking point.”
During a two-hour emergency board meeting that got tense at times, Superintendent John Farrelly detailed the challenges the school system faces with 17 coronavirus cases in schools and nearly 450 students and staff members quarantined.
Dare County students returned to classrooms on a hybrid schedule Oct. 26 and the first week went well, Farrelly said. But COVID-19 impacts began the second week of school and have resulted in a rash of COVID-19 cases among students and staff.
School Board member Harvey Hess questioned the need for such extensive quarantines, which Farrelly pointed out are aligned with state and Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
“We’re quarantining people who may not need to be quarantined,” Hess said. “I think that our kids are safer in school then they are going to Home Depot or Food Lion. We’re backing ourselves into a corner with this exponential quarantining.”
Hess also questioned teachers, who are in some cases teaching in-person and virtually, and filling in for other teachers and staff who are absent. If they find their jobs too difficult, Hess said, they should go find other employment. School Board Chair Bea Basnight and other school board members were quick to rebuke Hess and defend teachers.
Hess also said he’d like to bring Dare Health Director Sheila Davies into discussions before making any decisions on remote or in-person classes, after mentioning earlier in the meeting that he didn’t always agree with her take on the pandemic.
“In the meantime, we have staffing issues,” School Board Vice Chair Mary Ellon Ballance said. “These kids are not safe in school. We’re at a breaking point.”
School Board member David Twiddy made a motion to return students in kindergarten through 12th grade to virtual only instruction through the end of the semester, while keeping sports and after school clubs active. Ballance seconded. The board voted 6-1, with Hess voting against, in favor.
All students will return to virtual learning next week and school will remain remote until the semester ends on Jan. 15.