Local board of education scheduled to make decision on reopening schools

Local board of education scheduled to make decision on reopening schools
September 30
14:50 2020

In the blockbuster film “The Matrix,” Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, is offered the choice of a red pill and a blue pill by Morpheus, who was played by Laurence Fishburne. Take the red pill and you supposedly reveal the “unpleasant truth” about society or take the blue pill and remain in “blissful ignorance.” While their decision won’t involve colorful capsules or special effects, just like Neo, today, Oct. 1, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’(WS/FCS) Board of Education is faced with their own tough decision, when they vote whether to allow students to return to classrooms or continue virtual learning for at least nine more weeks.

Here’s what we know: On Sept. 17 Governor Roy Cooper announced that beginning Oct. 5, public school districts can choose to allow students grades K-5 to return to in-person learning with important safety measures like face coverings for all students, teachers and staff, social distancing, and symptom screening. 

“We are able to offer this option because most North Carolinians have doubled down on our safety and prevention measures and stabilized our numbers,” said Cooper. “North Carolinians are doing the hard work to improve our numbers and trends. Many people are wearing masks, keeping social distance and being careful to protect others as well as themselves. We have shown that listening to the science works. And I’m proud of our resolve.”

On the same day Gov. Cooper made his announcement, the WS/FCS COVID-19 committee was presented with a proposed, phased re-entry plan that would begin Oct. 26. The proposed re-entry plan is a hybrid of in-person and remote learning. Although the governor recommended opening elementary schools under Plan A, the least restrictive of the three plans for reopening schools, Dr. Angela Hairston, WS/FCS superintendent, said she feels the hybrid model is the best way for students, teachers and faculty to return safely.

Under the hybrid model, students will return to in-person learning by grade level beginning with Pre-K as soon as Oct. 26, other grade levels will be added every two weeks. For example, after Pre-K, grades K-2, 6 and EC Self Contained, EC-OCS, ESL Academy can return as soon as Nov. 2. Grades 3, 4, and 7 will be able to return as soon as Nov. 16 and grades 5 and 8 are expected to be able to return by Dec. 7. Due to winter break, high school students wouldn’t return to in-person learning until Jan. 21.  

“It’s a slow transition,” said Hairston. “It gives teachers time to adjust, it gives us time for staff to adjust.”

Once all grades levels have transitioned into in-person learning, to account for social distancing measures, students will have a modified schedule. Grades Pre-K through 2 will attend school four days per week, EC Self-Contained, EC-OCS, ESL Academy and EC Students who attend special schools, will also attend school four days a week. Grades 3, 4, and 5 will be split into four different cohorts and attend school once a week. 

All middle and high schools will be divided into “2” or “4” cohorts depending on school enrollment and the square-foot-per-student requirement at COVID occupancy. Two cohort schools will attend school on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesdays will be reserved as flex days or free days for all students.

Because they are the most populated schools in the district, four cohort schools will be split into four sub-cohorts. The first sub-cohort will attend school on Monday and Tuesday, the second sub-cohort will attend school on Thursday and Friday. The following week, the third and fourth sub-cohorts will follow the same schedule. On days students aren’t attending school, they will be expected to participate in remote learning, and Wednesdays will be reserved as a flex day or free day for all students.“That’s the only way they would really see all of their teachers face-to-face over a period of time,” Hairston said.

If opening is approved, students will be screened before boarding school buses and again before entering the school. The district will be hiring additional healthcare professionals to help with screening. If student shows symptoms or becomes ill during the school day, that student will be kept in an isolated area until they are able to be picked up or taken home. There will also be a screening process for teachers and faculty as well as everyone who enters the building. 

“We are hiring 16 healthcare professionals. And what we’re in the process of doing is seeing how we can best distribute those individuals. … Right now our plan is to have someone who is assigned to the school,” Hairston continued. “Yes we would love to have additional healthcare professionals, but we feel we have enough to support the work that has to be done.”

The special-called board of education meeting is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. The meeting will be held at the WS/FCS Education Building, 4801 Bethania Station Road and can be viewed on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools YouTube channel or Cable 2 television. During the meeting the public will have an opportunity to share their thoughts. 

For more information or to view the districts Back to School Plan, visit

“I don’t think that there’s a playbook for us to follow; all we can do is use our best judgment,” Hairson said. 

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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