New Stanly school board chair says students may return to remote-only instruction after holidays

ALBEMARLE — Jeff Chance, the newly elected Stanly County Board of Education chairman, says the board has a specially called meeting this week to determine whether to continue a hybrid model — using both in-person and remote learning — or to move entirely to remote learning when students return after the holidays. The continued spread of COVID-19, directives from the state and staffing shortages due to quarantines are the main drivers of this potential move.  

To further discuss the issue, the Stanly County Board of Education announced over the weekend they would hold a meeting Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 5:30 p.m. 

“The superintendent and central office have several options that they are looking at, and they are going to present those to us on Wednesday,” Chance told SCJ on Dec. 14. “At that point, we’ll discuss and make a decision.” 

Chance says much of the discussion will be based on COVID-19 numbers in the county, noting that the concern is that Stanly will see another rise in coronavirus cases, similar or worse to the peak in cases that followed this past Thanksgiving.  

“I’m really concerned about the state’s numbers,” Chance said. “I keep in touch pretty often with our local health department director, David Jenkins. Our cabinet meets with him weekly and I chat with him to see where we’re at with the county as a whole.” 

Chance indicated another determining factor in the board’s decision is the uncertainty around whether state directives for the spring semester will take the matter out of their hands anyway: “My concern is that the governor may be setting things in place for us to go all remote again.”  

At the board’s Dec. 1 meeting, Dr. Amy Blake-Lewis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, discussed the results of an “intent to return” survey, which was completed by the families of Stanly County’s students prior to the fall semester. That survey indicated that around 2,150 students opted for remote learning and around 5,500 chose the option with some in-person instruction.  

Last month, a second “intent to return” survey was sent to the families of students who learned remotely in the fall. Chance confirmed to SCJ that around 40% of those students indicated in the survey that they are now desiring to return to the classroom for the spring semester. But constant quarantining of staff who may have been exposed to the virus has made classroom instruction even with the current numbers a challenge.  

“One of the issues we’re having is not having an adequate number of staff to continue to maintain an in-person setting,” Chance said. “We’re limited on bus drivers, cafeteria employees, administration and teachers throughout the entire system. The biggest issue is not the number of positive cases but primarily the amount of folks we have on quarantine for 10 to 14 days due to exposure.” 

Chance, now in his first month as school board chairman, says the duty that his role carries in the current social climate is “mind-boggling and stressful to say the least,” but that his prior experience on the school board will inform his efforts. Chance previously served as a board member for eight years before taking four years off and then returning; he is now starting the third year of a four-year term.