Davie Schools to stay the course: No more schedule changes this year

Published 9:02 am Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Davie County Schools is going to stay the course for the remainder of this school year.

As Senate Bill 220 mandates that school districts across the state open for in-person learning, Davie has been doing just that since August, 2020, said Jeff Wallace, superintendent.

Wallace presented his recommendation to members of the board of education last week. That message was also sent to parents of students in the system.

“Davie County Schools is currently in compliance with this act,” he said. “That law requires all elementary schools to return or to be open under Plan A, which we currently are. It allows middle schools and high schools to open under Plan A or Plan B, eliminating Plan C as an option.”

The bill also requires school systems to cooperate with the ABC Collaborative, which Davie is already doing.

Middle and high school students in Davie County have been going for in-person instruction on two days a week, elementary students have been doing that since October, and K-2 students since August.

“These plans and decisions were enacted after hours of discussion with staff, parents and local DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services).

Wallace gave several reasons for not wanting high school students in class four days a week, even with three feet social distancing.

For one, it would require a later time to start school as daily temperature checks would be required for all students before entering the building. “You can tell kids to be here earlier and they’re not going to do it and there’s not much we can do about that.”

Parents and students have work and home study schedules in place, and a change would cause disruptions. He thinks some students would choose work over coming to class.

It would put additional strains on teachers, some of whom teach four, 90-minute class each day, and precipitate the need for more teachers. “We have had such a difficult time hiring teachers during this pandemic.”

He is concerned about a spike in Covid cases after spring break travel, potentially putting the schools at risk of an outbreak, one that hasn’t happened yet. Davie is yet to have a cluster or outbreak, with the highest number of students testing positive at 27 in January, with 20 staff members testing positive. As many as 200 students and 40 staff members have been quarantined at one time. “This causes major disruptions and additional work for everyone.”

He doesn’t want students – especially seniors – to miss out on important dates such as graduation. A spike in coronavirus cases could cancel what they hope will be a public graduation ceremony in June.

Social distancing is not possible at the high school, especially during class changes, he said. Teachers clean desks between classes, and are also hall monitors, and couldn’t do both.

Because of spring break and mandated state tests, the change would give high school students on 10-12 additional days of in-person instruction.

Wallace said that since January, the numbers of Covid-positive folks in the school has declined, … “indicating that the plans we have in place are working.”

He added that 130 classes in grades 6-12 have 26 or more students in them, making social distancing impossible. Classes in elementary schools are held in media centers, cafeterias, any place they can find that will allow social distancing.

“There is not enough space or staff,” Wallace said. “Plus, students must continue to eat in their classrooms … Transportation would have to be changed.”

“We understand that there is not a best plan for everyone while we continue to work through the pandemic. However, the comments we have received overwhelmingly support staying the course as we are now working to meet the needs of all students.”

Wallace said the system is working on helping students who have fallen behind because of remote learning. Summer school, with transportation, will be offered to all students. There will be special classes next school year just for students who have fallen behind.

“The plan we are currently operating under is working. Is it the best plan? No. There is noone in this building who would argue that children don’t need to be in the classroom every day. That is a given. Everyone believes that.”

“I am extremely grateful that this district, from the start, had our kids in school. We know how important that is,” said board of education member, Lori Sluder Smith. “We’ve worked hard to make that happen. We’ve got a great routine.”

Wallace told board members a story about one teacher in elementary school. Every student but one (They had been absent the day before.) was out on quarantine because of possible exposure to Covid. That teacher, he said, was working on filling plastic bags with notes and candy. That night, she delivered one to each student home under quarantine. “That’s the kind of people we have,” he said. “We are different.”

“Our teachers and staff have shown an unwavering commitment to our students. We are confident in our position as a district and the tough decisions we had to make to benefit our students this year.”

Wallace said a lot of thought was put into the decision to stay the course, that the system looked at all alternatives.

“Making a planned shift at this point in the year would involve significant changes in student schedules, reassignment of teachers, classroom capacity issues and more. Given our steady and successful course of action so far, we are concerned tht the disruption for students would outweigh the benefits.

“We will stay the course with our current schedule,” Wallace said.