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Back to Class!

If activity this week is any indication, it may be just a matter of a few weeks before students enrolled in local public school systems will return to the classroom for face-to-face instruction.

Most public school systems across the state have been closed to live instruction since March of last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After several recent rounds of debate in Raleigh, members in both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly gave bipartisan approval on Wednesday to legislation letting families choose whether to return to in-person learning in public schools.

That legislation, which allows teachers and staff members who self-identify as high-risk from COVID-19 to seek modified accommodations to minimize exposure risk, still awaits Governor Roy Cooper’s signature before becoming law.

Meanwhile, here in the Roanoke-Chowan area, Hertford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. William T. Wright Jr. sent a message on Tuesday night to the parents of school-age students and to community stakeholders regarding the reopening of schools next month.

“I have recommended to the Hertford County Board Of Education, and they have approved, an option for students to return to in-person learning under Plan B which requires social distancing and a hybrid attendance schedule for those families that chose to do so in a survey that was presented to the Board of Education on Jan. 21,” said Dr. Wright in a statement.

Wright said the approved recommendation allows families who have selected Plan B in Grades Pre-K-5 to begin face-to face instruction on March 8. Hertford County Early College High School will be allowed to begin face-to-face instruction on March 15. CS Brown High School STEM, Hertford County Middle School, and Hertford County High School will begin face-to-face instruction on March 16.

“To be clear, the Plan B students whose families asked for the option will be able to return on these dates. Families who have chosen to have their students remain on Plan C [remote learning] will still have the option to do so.”

Wright added that further details on the specific plans of reopening schools will be made available on Feb. 24.

Northampton County Public Schools are also preparing for a return to face-to-face instruction. Those students have been learning from home since the pandemic began.

“High numbers of community spread along with guidance from the local health department prompted the school district to consider the safety of students, teachers, and staff as the number of infected persons continued to soar,” explained Northampton Schools Superintendent Dr. Pamela Chamblee.

But with the possibility of students returning to in-person instruction soon due to legislation from the NC General Assembly, Chamblee said the district has been planning all along for the safe return of the students.

“We are excited to be nearing that juncture where students can return and resume some normalcy and routine in their lives,” she said. “It is our hope that all faculty and staff members will get vaccinated as an extra layer of protections for their health and for the health of others.”

Northampton Public Schools staff members have undergone disinfectant training, showing them how to properly clean and sanitize surface areas. Schools have been equipped with disinfectants, sanitizers, masks, face shields, signage, and thermometers. Desk shields for students should also be arriving soon, Chamblee said, and desks have been spaced out six feet apart in each classroom.

“We have taken care to ensure we have individual tools and resources for students and that they will not have to share materials,” Chamblee added.

Other safety protocols include mandating the “3Ws” of hand washing, waiting six feet apart, and wearing a mask appropriately. Temperatures checks will be done when entering the schools, and students riding a school bus will be socially distanced.

“School buses will be sanitized a minimum of twice each day,” she continued. “We will continue to work with our personnel, teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers on safe habits.”

Dr. Chamblee said their plans were developed by recommendations from the CDC, NCDHHS, NC Lighthouse Tool Kit, and the local health department.

“We are grateful for the additional state and federal funding, which afforded us with the opportunity to purchase personal protective equipment and all the needed resources to make returning to school safely a top priority. We eagerly await the return of our students,” she concluded.

The Northampton County Board of Education has scheduled a special called meeting at 2 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 22 for the purpose of discussing the reopening of schools.

Members of the public will have access to view all public portions of that meeting with the exception of a closed session) by using this link: https://zoom. us/j/93511472624

Anyone who requires disability accommodations or may have trouble accessing the live video stream on Feb. 22 is encouraged to contact Corey Tyler at (252) 534-1371, extension 2246 or tylerc@northampton.k12.nc.us to explore whether alternative arrangements can be made for the submission of public comment.

Likewise, the Bertie County Board of Education have scheduled a special called meeting at 5 p.m. on Feb. 22 where they are expected to engage in discussion about reopening schools.

Students and staff at Gates County Public Schools returned to the classroom last month under Plan A (face-to-face instruction) for all elementary schools and Plan B (staggered days for face-to-face and virtual) for the high school and middle school.

Parents there also had the option to allow their school-age children to remain on a total remote learning plan.