HCS Survey Highlights Divide Over Reopening

Harnett County Schools released the findings of a survey on whether parents want their children back in school or learning remotely and the results nearly split down the middle.

According to the survey, out of the 17,770 parents who responded, 9,098 or 51.2% favored remote learning compared to 8,672 (48.8%) who want their children to return to the classroom. The survey reached approximately 89% of the school system’s estimated 19,990 student population.

“The survey was close,” HCS Board of Education member Bill Morris said. “We’ve made options available for those who don’t feel comfortable returning. We’re trying to work with everyone the best we can.”

A similar divide played out in another survey where HCS employees were asked what type of instruction they wanted to see for the start of the 2020-21 school year. The district asked teachers and staff to choose from three different learning models: Students can return to campus or learn remotely, HCS delays or staggers the start of the semester or the school system offers remote-only for the forseeable future. Remote learning only received 41.1% of the 1,803 votes, followed by a delay or staggered start to the new year (31.7%) and a remote and face-to-face instruction option (27.2%).

“Options two and three were pretty close together,” Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming said. “When you compare Plan B (a combination of remote and in-person) to Plan C (remote only), Plan B still has almost 60% of the vote. A majority of teachers want to go the Plan B route. All they’re asking is that if we employ Plan B can we delay the beginning.”

The school district announced a plan last month offering parents the choice of sending their kids back to school or keeping them home amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey provided data as to how many students campuses can expect to see once they open at the end of August. HCS initially decided to bring students back under a series of health and safety guidelines, including social distancing inside classrooms. Individual schools needed an idea of how many students could return because if too many decide to come back, campuses could exceed capacity thresholds and may need to adopt a cohort schedule. Under the cohort plan, students would attend school in two-day blocks, either Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday with Wednesday reserved as a cleaning day. Remote learning would fill the rest of the time.

Some schools already face that possibility.

“It really depends on the school,” said Fleming. “There is an average of 55 to 58%. Some are right at 50%, some are even a little lower depending on the overall size of the school building. Some schools can be close to 60%. We know that some schools will have to do the staggered attendance. They are above 52, 53% wanting in-person. We’re not sure which ones yet. We do know there will be some.”

Board of Education members on Monday adopted a staggered schedule for the upcoming semester where elementary and middle schools return to campus on Aug. 24 and high schoolers follow on Aug. 31. Every school in the state starts remotely on Aug. 17.

“We have to get these kids back in school,” Morris said. “I’ve had a number of teachers call me this week saying they want to return to school. I had another person call who was irate. It’s an emotional time for everybody. We’re trying to the best with it with the information we have. We’re going to do a staggered start up. We established that day but we know if we have some issues we may have to adjust that date.”

For school principals, knowing how many students to expect inside the building played a huge role in coordinating reopening efforts during unprecedented times.

“Parents have to let us know because that’s going to change our schedule,” said Wayne Avenue Elementary School Principal Yvette Carson. “It is important that all parents make a choice as to how their child is coming back to school for the 2020-21 school year. We need to know due to making class sizes and remote learning. We need to know where our students are going to be assigned to.”

Gov. Roy Cooper extended the state’s safer-at-home policy another five weeks on Wednesday, which could impact HCS’ reopening plans. The board of education planned to meet on Aug. 17 to discuss the current schedule and whether or not to delay reopening campuses until after the Labor Day holiday.

“I think the children need to be in school,” Morris said. “They need the social skills and they obviously need the academics. We’re going to take care of people the best we can, but at some point we have to draw a line and say we’re going to go back to school. That’s what the people elected us to do.”

If the survey demonstrated anything it’s that regardless of which way HCS decides to go this upcoming school year, not everyone is going to be happy.

-Dunn Daily Record