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Parents, teachers express concern about Covid cases at Atkinson

A graphic spells out school system's policy on communicating with parents about Covid-19 cases. [SOURCE: HENDERSON COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS] A graphic spells out school system's policy on communicating with parents about Covid-19 cases. [SOURCE: HENDERSON COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS]

People concerned about the safety of students and teachers told the Henderson County School Board that after two children at Atkinson Elementary School had tested positive for Covid-19 last week they question whether the school system is doing enough to protect pupils, employees and their families.

The comments about the Atkinson situation were submitted to the School Board and read by board members at the start of a specially called meeting to discuss going to Plan A, which allows K-5 students to return to school full-time while observing “minimal” social distancing, conducting daily symptom screening other safety precautions.
While School Board members and administrators did not directly address the Atkinson cases, they did talk about the number of cases systemwide.

After the first week of Plan B in-person teaching, the school system reported three positive cases of children who attended in person learning, Associate Superintendent John Bryant told the board. As a result of close contact tracing, 37 students have been quarantined for 14 days. Two staff members and a school nurse are also under quarantine, Bryant said. In addition to the two cases at Atkinson, one was confirmed at Hillandale Elementary School.

At Atkinson “hard working teachers have not been quarantined and are still teaching,” a third grade teacher wrote, adding that classrooms aren’t large enough to keep students six feet apart. “We are unable to stay a safe distance away from one another. This puts my students, my loved ones and myself at risk.”
Another third grade teacher wrote to oppose going to Plan A.
“I’m personally concerned about teaching under Plan A at this time,” she said. “Yes of course I want all my students back in the classroom but only when it is safe to do so.”
Without addressing the Atkinson cases, Superintendent Bo Caldwell said, “We do our best to provide as much social distancing as we can.”

Later, Bryant reminded the board that the administration had decided as a matter of policy that it would not close schools just because a positive Covid case was reported.

Comments opposing in-person learning were not universal. One parent implored the School Board to return all students to school fulltime, saying the statewide pandemic restrictions were politically motivated.
Board member Dot Case, a retired civics teacher at North Henderson High School, said the board should survey teachers to find out “what’s working and what’s not” under Plan B and to hear their “fears of Plan A.”
“They want us to know what their input is,” she said. “If the seven of us sitting here make the decision, if they have no individual input, I don’t think that’s right. We’re sitting here safe and they’re on the front lines.”
Keys to successfully implementing of Plan A include communication with families, fixing any problems with virtual learning, revising bus routes in order to reduce bus capacity and reconfigure classrooms to separate children by six feet or more, Jan King, assistant superintendent for instructional services, told the School Board.

The main bullet point to understand and appreciate, Caldwell said, was this:  "Plan A will eliminate social distancing within the classroom environment and on school buses for elementary school students."

School Board members agreed more study and preparation is needed before they could consider going to Plan A for grades K-5.

"I would love to see everybody back on Plan A but we have to do it smartly, we have to do it in phases and we have to figure out what's working and what's not working," said Amy Lynn Holt.

"How can we hear them and make sure they feel heard and have their concerns met," he said.

Craven said the consensus of the board was to "kind of stay where we're at right now," explore adding third grade to the five-day-a-week in-person plan, gather teacher feedback on the next steps and improve the effectiveness of virtual learning. Under the current plan, K-2 pupils go to school five days a week and grades 3-12 are split into an A group, in school Mondays and Thursdays, and a B group, in classrooms Tuesday and Friday. Wednesday is a virtual learning day for all 3-12 students.