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Guilford County Schools to Continue Current Learning Plans

Guilford County Schools students will continue learning at home for at least another week, district leaders announced today. Students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten who are learning on campus on a voluntary basis will continue, as will students who receive related services in person.

The Guilford County Board of Education approved a plan on September 24 to gradually bring back students starting on Oct. 20, if community health metrics were trending in the right direction.

“The superintendent was directed by the school board to meet regularly with public health officials to review the data, discuss COVID-19 research and consider the best ways to help prevent spread of COVID-19 in schools,” said Deena Hayes, chairperson of the Guilford County Board of Education.

“Thus far, the health metrics approved by the Board of Education have not been met,” said Hayes, noting that the superintendent does not have the authority to overrule the board’s September 24 vote and return students to school.

‘There seems to be a misconception that the superintendent is preventing us from reopening or is ignoring the board’s directives to follow the metrics,” said Hayes. “The fact that most students are not in school makes it clear that the superintendent is adhering to the board’s adopted metrics.”

The school board will review the latest data and the community health metrics they put in place to drive school reopening decisions at their November 10 meeting. Superintendent Sharon L. Contreras plans to ask school board members to make a long-term decision about whether to continue trying to reopen schools prior to winter break, or to wait until January.

Contreras and Hayes agree that the week-to-week uncertainty has been difficult for students’ families to manage as they juggle work, childcare, online learning and other responsibilities.

“Our families need time to plan and make the appropriate arrangements for their children,” said Contreras. Hayes agreed, adding that “The week-to-week uncertainty is creating more stress for all involved.”

Contreras also noted that more large districts nationwide are reopening, even in densely populated areas.

“We have developed detailed plans and spent significant staff hours and financial resources to prepare our schools, put health and safety precautions in place and purchase personal protective equipment for students and staff,” said Contreras. “My goal remains the same: We need to move forward with a gradual and careful reopening of schools.”

Contreras said she also plans to recommend that the Board of Education adjust its metrics to include the growing body of research on COVID-19 transmission in schools and consideration of the impact on students’ academic and social outcomes and emotional well-being.

“Our parents are sharing with us that they are deeply concerned about their children’s mental health,” said Contreras. “We’re seeing this in the national research as well, which indicates that many students and their parents are struggling socially and emotionally after months of social isolation and pandemic-induced stress.”

Her recommendation will include an immediate phased-in reopening—as early as November 12—for GCS first through second grade students, exceptional children in 91 self-contained classrooms, as well as students served in GCS’ four public separate schools.

Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students have been attending school for in-person instruction since September 29 and October 5, respectively. Certain students with disabilities began receiving related services in-person earlier this fall as well.

Students in GCS’ exceptional children program, particularly those served in the adapted curriculum classes, are having tremendous difficulty accessing the educational program—an education Contreras said they are guaranteed by state and federal law.

Data released from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes shows that students could be losing as much as 183 days of learning time in reading and 232 days in math in an online learning setting.

“We must balance the potential academic and social harm to students with the health concerns associated with COVID-19, especially as we learn more about COVID-19 transmission rates in schools,” said Contreras.

In addition, consensus appears to be growing among infectious disease researchers studying COVID-19 that children age 10 and under are at less risk of transmitting the virus to each other or to adults, and that having schools in session does not appear to increase community spread as feared.

For more information on the district’s plan to reopen schools, visit www.gcsnc.com/reopening.