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Nash schools to start with online learning

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Nash County Public Schools will start online for the upcoming school year with an eye towards getting students back into classrooms as soon as possible.

“It’s every educators desire for kids to be in a building,” Superintendent Steve Ellis told the Nash Board of Education. The board approved the plan at special called meeting held remotely and electronically Wednesday to maintain social distancing requirements related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nash took a little longer than other school districts in making this decision because it wanted to hear from everyone involved. The administration took two staff surveys with “school” and “students” being the most used words in the surveys, Ellis said.

The state offered school districts three options. Plan A would see all students return to campus in the fall. Plan B would limit the number of students on campus at one time. And Plan C calls for remote learning.

In the surveys, 71% of staff said they were more comfortable with Plan C with 53% staff of staff saying they believed they were at a high risk if they were infected with the coronavirus.

With Plan C, all staff will be on campus and all students will be online. The district wants to transition to Plan B as soon as possible with kindergarten and special needs students back to school by early September, Ellis said.

The greatest challenge with Plan B is transportation with social distancing calling for students to sit in every other seat which means multiple bus runs, Ellis said.

Also available is the Virtual Academy, an online teaching method with 3,263 students signed up and the application deadline extended through Aug. 10. Students who have signed up for the academy are evenly distributed across all grades and represented at every school in the district.

When the school year opens, all students will receive online learning. As time passes, the district will move into blended learning with students attending school on alternate weeks with online learning taking place on the weeks students aren’t on campus.

As far as students signed up for the Virtual Academy, all students will be under Plan C until Plan B takes effect. At that time, students who signed up for the academy will have the choice to return to campus or remain in the academy.

Board member Bill Sharpe asked how many students the Virtual Academy can handle, with Ellis saying that couldn’t be answered until the school year starts and it becomes clearer as far as how many students plan to remain with the academy compared to returning to campus as part as Plan B. Students will be given a choice to remain with the academy, but they will have to stay at least a semester once that decision is made.

Board member Evelyn Bulluck said with the number of coronavirus cases rising, she’s concerned the school district shouldn’t be in a rush to bring students back to campus.

“I don’t want to give folks false hope,” Bulluck said. “And I don’t want our kids back in school if it isn’t safe.”

Bulluck said she would hate to see a student get sick because they’re in a class with another student who refuses to wear a mask.

Ellis said if it isn’t safe, he’s not going to send students back to campus.

Board member Doneva Chavis thanked Ellis and his staff for their hard work and making decisions based on numbers and facts. She asked what will happen if their is a breakout at a school.

Ellis said they would follow procedures including calling in public health officials and quarantine at home students who might have been exposed.