Polk County Board of Education approves mix of in-person, remote learning for reopening schools

Polk County Schools students will return to school in August with a choice of in-person and remote learning options.

The Polk County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to adopt a hybrid approach for the start of classes on August 24. Polk County Schools will follow a modified version of Plan B of the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit developed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Under the plan, local students will have the option to either attend in-person classes at least two days per week or participate in one of two remote learning options. While attending in-person classes, students will be required to wear a mask and follow social distancing protocols as required by executive order of Governor Roy Cooper. Students who wish not to wear a mask will be required to choose one of the two remote learning options.

“No matter what plan we operate under, no matter what you choose tonight or what we actually implement on August 17th, I want folks to know that Polk County Schools is going to work very hard to make sure we serve our students in the best possible way we can,” said Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene in recommending Plan B. “That’s the only way we can go forward, is to commit to our students and families and make sure that we’re serving them to the best of our ability to do so.”

Highlights of the plan approved Monday by the board include:

  • Students in grades 6-12 at Polk County High School and Polk County Middle School can attend in-person classes two days per week. One group of students will attend classes on Monday-Thursday while the other group attends classes on Tuesday-Friday. Wednesday will be a fully remote day for all students, with students expected to complete work on the other days when not in-person. Special consideration will be given to at-risk students and to ensuring students in the same household have the same attendance days.
  • Space permitting, all students in Polk County elementary schools and Polk County Early College can attend in-person classes every day. This hinges upon the amount of students who opt for remote learning. If enough students at a school do so, then social distancing will be possible for all remaining students to attend in-person classes every day. If not, then those schools will follow the same schedule as upper grades, with students attending in-person classes for two days and learning remotely the remaining three days.
  • Students at all schools can opt to attend all classes remotely or join the district’s new Wolverine Academy.
  • New thermal scanners will allow the district to check each student’s temperature prior to entering the building. The district also will increase its cleaning and disinfecting procedures while also emphasizing hand washing and no sharing of materials.

Prior to the board’s vote, Greene also emphasized that a change in conditions prior to August 24 could still force the district to move to Plan C, which mandates remote learning for all students. The district also plans to continue surveying and talking with community members and staff and faculty prior to the August 24 start of classes.

More specific information about the reopening plan as well as the two remote options will be available in coming days.

“Given the challenges of remote learning for so many families, the likelihood that many families will be forced to choose an even more risk-filled option for child care if we do go fully remote, the immense need for our students to be cared for and learn in a face-to-face environment and the uncertain nature of future decisions we may have to make, I believe these are the best recommendations that I can make at this time and offer these recommendations as what I believe is the best path forward for our students,” Greene said.

In preparation for Monday’s vote, Polk County Schools surveyed families in the district as well as staff and faculty members. More than 1,600 responses were received from the survey of families, with 63 percent of respondents indicating a preference for face-to-face learning. Some 21 percent indicated they planned to investigate remote learning, with another 13 percent indicating a preference for Wolverine Academy and the remainder stating their student would not be returning.

The staff and faculty survey generated 277 responses, with almost 86 percent answering that they didn’t wish to talk to an administrator about personal concerns over returning to work and 14 percent indicating they did have such concerns and wanted to share those with administrators.

That feedback was one of many sources that district officials consulted before recommending the hybrid Plan B approach for reopening. District staff also relied on guidance from DHHS, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Association of Pediatrics, Polk County Health and Human Services and other local leaders.

Greene acknowledged the anxiety and fears of staff and parents as well as the difficulty of balancing the need for students to be back in school with health concerns. He also detailed for the board the myriad of challenges the district will have to overcome in a short amount of time and the fluid nature of the situation that could still mean a move to remote learning for all if local or state conditions change.

“We’ll need significant family and community patience and support,” Greene said. “As a community, Polk County has been incredible about that thus far. I think we’re going to need that to continue as we go forward. It’s very frustrating, it’s a very anxious time, but we’re going to need that community patience and support.”

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