ALBEMARLE — Gov. Roy Cooper and his Republican rivals in the General Assembly each made moves in early February to begin transitioning the state’s students back to physical classrooms, but at Stanly County Schools’ Feb. 2 board of education meeting, district officials said those debates will have little impact locally since they already offer the proposed options.
At the meeting, SCS Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis addressed the board, saying he wanted to discuss both the governor’s recent announcement on pushing for schools to reopen and the legislation working its way through the state legislature, which he identified as Senate Bill 37, “In Person Learning Choices for Families.” Dennis said the bill would require all districts to have an option for in-person learning for K-12, while also offering virtual options for those who wish to remain in remote learning. The districts would have to work out a plan that offers these options while also following the N.C. Strong Schools Public Health Toolkit.
“As far as we go as a school district, we have a leg up on a lot of other school districts in that we already meet most of these statutes anyway,” Dennis said. “So we would have to do very little work, if any, if they were to pass this.”
Dennis said that 90 out of 115 districts had some form of face-to-face learning, but for those that didn’t, if the bill became law, they would have 15 days to make those changes.
Turning to Cooper’s new policy, Dennis said, “During his [Cooper’s] message today, he did want school districts to embrace learning for K-5 to five days a week and he would like to see that as well as move forward with the 6-12, the secondary, to more face-to-face options. And a lot of that will be predicated on what the toolkit says at that time.”
Dennis said that there was a revision to the statewide toolkit that was sent out that day, and it “would help with bringing more kids into the schools.”
“I will also say that in terms of everything, we’re just in really good shape moving forward, no matter what they end up doing.” Dennis said. “But there is definitely a push to bring students back to schools across the state.”
A number of Board of Education members responded to Dennis, and spoke on the topic in general, during their closing comments.
“I think we continue the track record, the school system does, of being ahead of the curve, and providing students and families with options,” board member Anthony Graves said. “So it’s good the governor has finally recognized the importance of those things. But I do say it is interesting the timing, giving the fact that the number of hospitalizations, the infection rates, and all of that data, is much higher than it was back at the start of the school year. And they use the excuse that now they know more than they did back then. Well, some people knew more back then, and unfortunately, I know you always want to err on the side of caution, but certainly I’m glad that we gave those students that wanted the in-person instruction the option to do that at the beginning of the school year.”
Another board member, Carla Polin, also praised the district’s early adoption of in-person options, and praised those who have been involved in implementing those policies.
“I guess with COVID, we’ve learned to adapt and adjust, and I know that our staff will do that and they will excel at doing that,” Poplin said. “I just want them to know that I personally thank them for taking on the students, because I have friends and family members with children that desperately want their children back in school. And I just feel like we’re making the right decision getting as many students back in the building as we can.”
The board’s chair, Jeff Chance, then closed the meeting by saying he concurred “with everything said this evening,” and that “We’re certainly way ahead of the game, in my opinion. The governor doesn’t have anything on us.”