Reporter's note: This article was updated at 10:23 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, to include more information.
BEAUFORT — Citing concerns over a predicted spike in COVID-19 cases following the Christmas holidays, the Carteret County Board of Education voted Wednesday to have students switch to remote virtual learning Wednesday, Jan. 6 through Friday, Jan. 15 after returning from holiday break.
“We were told the week of Jan. 6 and 11th is when we will see a spike,” Superintendent Dr. Rob Jackson said during the emergency called meeting Wednesday in the school system’s central office. “As allowed by the governor, after talking with the principals, the cabinet staff, working with the health director and school nurses, it is my recommendation that we move to 100 percent remote learning from Jan. 6-15 and return (Tuesday) Jan. 19 to the plan as we are now.”
The school district’s current calendar has elementary students attending in person five days a week, with middle and high school students attending two days in person and three days virtually.
The board approved the proposal by a 5-2 vote, with members Travis Day and Kathryn Chadwick opposing the idea. Board member John McLean made the motion to approve the measure, with Dennis Goodwin providing a second. Also voting for the idea was Chairperson Clark Jenkins, Brittany Wheatly and Katie Statler.
Mr. Day voted against the suggestion, citing concerns about families struggling with childcare issues and a loss of in-person instruction time.
Ms. Chadwick also said she worried about childcare for families, as well as making sure students have adequate food after the long break, which begins Monday and goes through Tuesday, Jan. 5.
“We’re already putting a big burden on families and there are people who don’t have jobs. Where does the food factor in?” Ms. Chadwick said.
Dr. Jackson said the school system was planning a food distribution for pre-registered families Saturday at the three high schools. Families will receive enough meals to last through the holidays. He added that the school system was already looking at providing meals to families during the remote learning days after the break.
“We’re still working out how that will happen, but we will make it happen,” Dr. Jackson said.
Other board members, like Ms. Wheatly, said she would rather err on the side of safety for students and school personnel.
“I would rather be really safe than push it and not be able to go back to class later on,” she said.
During his presentation, Dr. Jackson shared that the County Health Department and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services predicted there would be a spike following the Thanksgiving break, and that has been reflected in the school system’s COVID-19 numbers.
“We have been reporting numbers for 18 weeks, and six of those weeks we have had 0 or 1 case,” he said. “The week after Thanksgiving, we had seven cases. The following week we had 21 cases. This week, we’ve already had six cases so far.”
The increased cases have put a strain on teachers and staff, including teacher assistants who also serve as bus drivers, according to Dr. Jackson.
“We are nearing a breaking point. Our substitute (teacher) pool is significantly diminished. We are working with 20 percent of our normal substitute pool,” he said. “When we have staff that have to quarantine, we don’t have enough subs. We are having to shift staff around to fill those slots. It’s especially difficult with TAs, who also drive school buses.”
He added that since August, the school system has had 58 confirmed positive COVID cases in employees, and 59 for students. The 117 total cases were as of Wednesday afternoon.
For staff, the breakdown is: elementary, 33; middle, 12; and high school, 13.
The total confirmed positive cases for students is: elementary, 14; middle, 10; and high school, 35.
Dr. Jackson praised school personnel and parents for persevering through extreme challenges to keep the school year going.
“We have asked much of our parents, teachers and staff. I also want to thank the community for its support as well,” he said.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.
BEAUFORT — The Carteret County Board of Education, by a 5-2 vote Wednesday afternoon, approved having students attend school remotely Jan. 6-18 after returning from Christmas break.
Students will return to the current calendar Tuesday, Jan. 19, under the motion approved by the school board in a special meeting at the administration building in Beaufort. The move to remote-only is to prevent a spike in COVID-19 cases following Christmas break.
The current calendar has elementary students attending in-person five days a week and middle and high school students attending two days in-person and three days virtually.
This is a developing report.