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WS/FCS Board of Education approves phased school reopening plan

Plan begins with return of elementary school students, high schoolers to return in January

The WS/FCS Board of Education has approved a phased reopening plan that will gradually transition students from remote learning to a blend of in-person and remote classes. The plan is based on continuing positive public health trends for Forsyth County and could be modified should those metrics change.

“Our focus is a safe return to the classroom for our students and employees,” says WS/FCS Superintendent Dr. Angela Hairston. “We continue to work with the Forsyth County Department of Public Health to monitor health trends very closely and believe a phased approach best enables us to create classroom environments that are both safe and provide the positive learning experiences our students need.”

In the approved plan, students will begin returning to in-person learning based on grade and program. The plan takes a hybrid approach, meaning students will attend school in person for a certain number of days per week with the remaining days being taught remotely. The plan details can be found on the Our Safe Return page of the WS/FCS website.

The first contingent of students to return to the classroom will be those attending Career & Technical Education classes who require hands-on learning. Those students and teachers will return to the classroom on Oct. 5.

Elementary schools will then begin their phased return with Pre-K starting Oct. 26 followed by grades K-3 on Nov. 2. Exceptional Children and students in EC Separate-Setting/Assigned, EC-OCS or ESL programs will also return Nov. 2. Grades 4-5 will return on Nov. 16. These students will attend school four days a week with Wednesdays being used for remote learning to enable schools to undergo deep cleaning.

Middle school students will be divided into cohorts and attend school in person either two days every week or two days every other week depending on school enrollment. Middle schools with larger enrollments will have cohorts on alternating weeks. The alternating schedule will enable schools to significantly reduce the number of students on campus and maintain social distancing. Students in grade 6 will return on Nov. 2, and grades 7-8 will return Nov. 16.

High school students will return as soon as Jan. 11 for in-person testing. In-person classes will start on Jan. 25. Those students will be divided into cohorts following a schedule similar to middle school.

“We know our students want to be back in the classroom with their teachers and it was important to start with our younger students where learning losses are often the greatest. Then we build very intentionally to our middle and high school students,” says Hairston. “Elementary school practices also make it easier to cohort students by classroom which helps reduce any potential mixing of different classes and exposure with other students and with adults. Our students in middle and high school follow schedules that involve multiple classrooms and teachers, and significantly more classmates, which is why we are limiting the number of days they will attend in person and also taking more time to allow teachers to prepare before they return.”

Across the district, students and families have voiced differing views on a return-to-school plan with some families wanting to remain with remote learning and others preferring in-person learning. Hairston acknowledged that no plan was perfect. But she went on to say that the district is working to meet the needs of the most students possible while focusing on a safe return for students and staff.

“We must start safely. This phased approach enables us to do that, to build on that success as we add more grades and more students,” says Hairston. “By Oct. 5, every school will have been audited and plans put in place to support our teachers and staff as they begin welcoming back smaller groups of students. We’ve also done extensive training, brought in new technology and added personnel. This work reflects months of detailed planning by our COVID-19 Committee and work groups. I cannot thank those individuals enough for their dedication to our safe return.”

The phased reopening plan also impacts school transportation, specifically for students who attend choice or magnet schools. Those students will not be provided bus transportation because of the costs and complexities associated with meeting existing safety requirements and eliminating the mixing of student populations from different schools. Students who attend choice or magnet schools live all over the district, so the bus routes are more complex, often with transfer points. The district projects to continue those routes and adhere to safety guidelines would require 252 additional buses. The cost of those buses is not financially feasible, and the district is already addressing a shortage of drivers.

Hairston also recognized the importance of supporting students and families who want to continue with remote learning through the WS/FCS Virtual Academy. The academy, which operates as its own school with a principal, administrative team and teachers, is continuing to accept students in grades K-8. Information about Virtual Academy enrollment and registration is available on the Academy’s webpage on the WS/FCS website, https://www.wsfcs.k12.nc.us/virtual.

Students who have not enrolled in the Virtual Academy but would prefer to continue learning remotely from their current school can do so using new technology that is being installed in every classroom. This option is also available for high school students. Students who want to continue remote learning with their current class will need to coordinate with their individual schools.

The WS/FCS phased reopening plan is available on the Our Safe Return page of the WS/FCS website. This page also includes frequently asked questions and student and family resources., Families and students will receive more detailed information in the weeks ahead from the district and their individual schools.