Johnston County School Board Votes 4-3 To Delay Sept. 8th Reopening

Plan C Remote Learning Will Continue Through At Least Oct. 15

The Johnston County Public School Board met in special session Thursday afternoon and voted to delay the September 8th return of K-5 students to the classrooms.

In July, the school board voted 7-to-0 to start the school year with virtual online instruction for all students. K-5 students would return to classrooms on September 8th under plan B to give transportation services an opportunity to work on bus routes.

Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy

That has now changed. In Thursday’s meeting, Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy made the recommendation to postpone the return of K-5 students to campuses and recommended they remain on Plan C (remote learning only) through the end of the first grading period October 15, 2020.

“I’m very concerned about the virus spreading more in our schools. Since June we’ve had 38 Johnston County School staff who have tested positive.” Additionally, in August, 65 school personnel have been placed in quarantine due to possible COVID exposure.

Board member Teresa Grant said she was concerned about the health and safety of all students and staff but roughly 60-70 percent of parents want their children to go back to school. Grant said changing this now would go against what the board decided in July.

Board member Mike Wooten said, “I want parents to have a choice. I am really concerned about the well-being of students – social and emotional – and that EC (exceptional children) students have their education face-to-face, as well as special therapist and those type sessions face-to-face.”

Chairman Todd Sutton said the entire school board was on the same page wanting students to return to classrooms as soon as possible, but some members disagree on the timing of the return.

Terri Sessoms said at the July board meeting she supported the decision for K-5 students to return on September 8th because they needed hands on and face-to-face interactions. But given the number of staff quarantined, Sessoms says teachers have told her it is not possible to do a blended model.

Sessoms stated, “Its not safe. I was brought up to believe when there are no good options… you err on the side of safety. I completely support the Superintendent… We cannot fix a child who has died of COVID. We can not fix a staff member who has died of COVID.”

Dr. Peggy Smith said the facts have changed since the board’s July decision and said her vote today was about placing safety first.

Tracie Zukowski said there was no right or wrong answer. “I too have to err on the side of safety.”

Chairman Sutton then stated, “Regardless of what happens here we are a united board. We are going to do whatever is necessary… It is a very tough decision. We all have the same goal in mind.”

In a 4-to-3 vote, the school board approved Dr. Bracy’s recommendation to delay the return of K-5 students to campus on September 8th.

Voting to delay the return was Chairman Sutton, Tracie Zukowski, Dr. Peggy Smith and Terri Sessoms. Voting against the delay was Ronald Johnson, Teresa Grant and Mike Wooten.

School board member Teresa Grant

(Prior to the formal vote, Grant attempted to amend the motion to only delay grades 4 and 5 and bring pre-K through 3rd grade students back to campuses on September 8th. Chairman Sutton consulted with the school board attorney who said the motion could not be amended. Sutton declined to accept Grant’s amended motion.)

After the meeting, Ronald Johnson spoke to Johnston County Report and stated, “If people want to stay at home, they have the option. If families want to send their children back to school, they deserve to have that option. If a parent decides the best thing to do is send their children back to school, who am I to say that is not what is best for your child. If a teacher wants to return to school, they should have the option. If a teacher wants to teach virtually, give them that option.”

“People trust me to make decisions that represent their values and beliefs, not to make decisions because I know better than the average person. No elected official or government employee should be making assertions about what is best for other people’s kids. I understand people will disagree, and that is okay. It’s understandable people want to debate and argue that we should not return for face to face instruction, but the virtual option already exists for those who feel this way. I just want the people who believe their children should be in school, to be treated equally,” Johnson said.

“Some people lose it and become so overwhelmed with emotion if you simply disagree with them or have a contradictory idea. I am sure people will say I am ignorant, arrogant, pandering to the crowd, or a plethora of other insults I have become accustomed to. I, along with many other people, want to be back in school sooner than mid October. It does not mean I am ignorant, have some sinister motivations, or political agenda. We have different perspectives, and I am watching people stress out because of the virtual platform, suffer financially, and a decline in the quality of education because you cannot replace face to face instruction. This is a reality and my motivation for wanting the students, who want to return, back in the classroom as soon as possible. Again, if you don’t want to go back, you have the virtual option,” Johnson said.

“I understand there are risks associated with going back into a public setting. I know a little bit about job associated risks. I admire every teacher who wants to get back to face to face instruction, and respect everyone who chooses to teach virtual for their personal reasons. However, families and staff members deserve the right to choose, and just because you feel one choice is right for you, it does not mean it is right for everyone else.

“Some people want a perfect plan, there is no perfect plan. There will be inefficiencies with transportation, instructional delivery, and school related activities. There will also be risks associated with going back to school. It is up to the families and staff members if they choose to take the associated risks and work through the inefficiencies,” Mr. Johnson stated.

Following the 4-3 split vote, Johnston County Public Schools will continue to operate under Plan C (remote learning only) through at least the end of the first quarter, which ends on Oct. 15. When the board meetings again in September, they will re-exam what grade levels might be able to return to campus and when.

Officials said they will consult with the Johnston County Health Department for guidance in making that decision.