Local students return to classroom, while virus numbers continue to soar

Local students return to classroom, while virus numbers continue to soar
January 13
14:42 2021

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools continued its phased re-entry plan to in-person learning earlier this week. On Monday, Jan. 11, grades 2, 3, and 6 returned to the classroom for the first time in 10 months, despite concerns about the surge of the coronavirus across the state.

Initially the WS/FCS adopted reopening standards that followed positivity rates gathered by the Forsyth County Department of Public Health Department, but a few weeks later and just a day before she announced her resignation, former Superintendent Angela P. Hairston announced changes to the standards. The new standards align reopening with the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) indicators for Safe School Opening.

Those indicators include the number of new cases per 100,000 persons within the last 14 days, otherwise known as the “Incidence Rate,” and the percentage of lab tests that are positive during the last 14 days, or the “Percent Positive.” The CDC Core Indicators also require schools to follow five key strategies for opening safely. Those include: consistent and correct use of masks, social distancing to the largest extent possible, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and disinfection, and contact tracing in collaboration with the local health department.

Since the change was made, dozens of teachers have come forward with concerns about their health and pleaded their case to continue remote learning for all students, but to no avail.

Although the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported a record high 11,581 new cases last weekend, WS/FCS is moving forward with their phased re-entry plan. By the end of the month all students in the district will have the option to return to in-person learning. Grades 2, 3 and 6 returned earlier this week, grades 4, 5, 7, and 8 will return to the classroom on Jan. 19, and high school students will return as soon as Jan. 25.

While discussing the reopening plan during a special called meeting last week, Interim Superintendent Tricia McManus said the district is taking multiple measures to ensure the safety of students and teachers. She also mentioned that she has received just as many emails and phone calls from teachers and parents who want to return to in-person learning, as those who don’t.

“I appreciate many folks that have voiced their sincere concerns on both sides … to not come back and to come back. And again I’m going to reiterate what I said, both of those are valid,” she said. “I know that everyone has a vested interest in our students and I will tell you I’m very grateful for that. And that is one common denominator that I’ve seen from everybody’s response no matter what and that is, they have a vested interest in students.”

McManus said over the past six weeks she’s had countless meetings with scientists, doctors, mental health experts, other superintendents across the country and many others who have provided valuable information on reopening schools.

The district is planning for all students to return to the classroom, but on average, schools will only operate at 60% capacity, based on the number of students who have already opted to return at the time of publication.

“Our plan to bring students back is based on CDC guidelines, Our Strong Schools NC Toolkit, and many hours of district leaders carefully planning the best ways to keep our students and staff safe while providing the best education possible,” McManus said. “Our students and our staff are extremely important and all of us want nothing more for them to be happy, healthy, and thriving …. Because I want students back in school does not mean I do not care deeply about our staff; I do. From every ounce of my being I care deeply about our staff and I take their safety and the safety of our students, and so does my staff, very seriously.”

Before giving an extensive presentation on steps the district has taken to prepare for reopening, McManus said she was confident that they can open schools safely. “We will do everything in our power to make sure that happens,” she said.

“I’m very serious when I tell people I do not want to hear we don’t have what we need to do this successfully. I know we do; we have the resources and I know we can do this safely.”

Following the presentation, board member Elisabeth Motsinger raised concerns about the number of positive cases in N.C. Motsinger said we won’t know the effects of this virus on children and young adults for a decade or more, and she doesn’t want to look back in history and see the loss of life connected to our schools. She also mentioned the mutated strain of the virus that is believed to be more contagious. 

 “Yes this has been hard, it’s been brutal, nobody will forget living through this time. But I don’t want us to be losing people and have it connected to our schools and that’s why I feel so fiercely about being more cautious and precautionary than we’re being.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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