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Guilford County Schools delays return of grades 3-8, pre-K through 2 will return as scheduled, with extra remote choice for parents

Guilford County Schools delays return of grades 3-8, pre-K through 2 will return as scheduled, with extra remote choice for parents

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Updated 9:55 p.m.

GREENSBORO — Guilford County Schools will delay the return of grades 3-8, Superintendent Sharon Contreras said Wednesday, in light of the data she's reviewed about COVID-19 statistics locally. 

She is also delaying the return of some vulnerable populations of high school students that they had expected to bring back earlier than other high school students, and students in the four schools that serve students with special needs. 

First and second grade students will return as scheduled on Tuesday, joining pre-K and kindergartners who have already returned to school. The pre-K and kindergarten school days increase from half time to full time. 

Most elementary schools will also allow parents to keep their child in remote learning while still being enrolled at their regular schools. 

According to the district, adding that remote learning option will require changes to teacher assignments and class rosters. They expect principals to share new teacher assignments with parents before Tuesday.

The school board in September approved five measures for determining whether to proceed with reopening schools. The three primary measures related to COVID-19 case numbers, the percentage of positive test results in the county, and the district's ability to enact strategies that could stop the spread of the disease. 

The two secondary measures were the 14-day trends in hospitalization rates and intensive care unit capacity in the community.

In a brief interview Wednesday, county health Director Iulia Vann said that student ages played a role in her recommendations to slow the phased return of students. 

Vann said some published research suggests children up to the age of 10 are at lower risk of infection, transmission and more severe symptoms than older people. High school age students, she said, are more like adults in how they respond to the virus. 

That's part of the reason for delaying the return of older students, she said. And delaying the return of the third through fifth graders will give a longer opportunity to try out having the younger grades back with fewer students in the buildings and more space on buses, Vann said. 

Vann said she supports the superintendent's amended plan. She stressed, however, that at each phase, they must review the health metrics prior to going ahead. 

"It's a combination of, I guess, disappointment and motivation at the same time," she said of the changed plans.

It's another opportunity, she said, to redouble education and outreach efforts to the community to recruit everyone's help to limit the spread and improve the county's COVID-19 statistics, to make it more likely to bring back the next group of students. 

During Tuesday night's board meeting, explanations from Contreras, Vann and school district Chief of Staff Nora Carr about how decisions would be made on whether to go forward with phased reentry prompted frustration and concern from some school board members, who thought there would be a firmer requirement to meet targets such as a county test positivity rate under 5% before bringing back more students. 

Data available on Tuesday did not suggest that metric had been met. 

A motion by school board member Byron Gladden to delay the phased reopening until January failed on a vote of 7-2 and board members did not make any other motion to otherwise halt or constrain the superintendent. 

In response to a question from board member Darlene Garrett, Vann said she could potentially endorse a return to school even if the other metrics were not met, based on the strength of the district's plans for enacting mitigation strategies, including masking, social distancing, and keeping students in cohort groups.

Carr also suggested that mitigation strategies could help compensate for less promising data in other areas.

"The metrics are meant to be guide posts; they are not rigid cutoffs," she said.

Board members voted to ask the state to waive class size requirements in grades K-3, with the goal of letting elementary schools have larger online classes if needed. 

While the district expects most elementary schools will be able to offer parents an option for their children to continue remote learning while remaining enrolled at their schools, it less clear how many middle schools would be able to offer that option.

That's because a high percentage of middle school parents have not yet turned in their preference forms, Contreras said. The district is stressing the need for parents to return those forms as soon as possible.


GREENSBORO — Guilford County Schools will delay the return of grades 3-8, Superintendent Sharon Contreras said Wednesday, in light of the data she's reviewed about COVID-19 statistics locally. 

They are also delaying the return of some vulnerable populations of high school students that they had expected to bring back earlier than other high school students. 

Pre-K through second grade will return as scheduled on Tuesday, with at most elementary schools an additional choice for parents that would allow them keep their child in remote learning while remaining at their regular schools. 

Guilford County Schools reentry timeline: 

Oct. 20Confirmed Return. First and second graders join Pre-K and Kindergarten at school. The Pre-K and Kindergarten school days increase from half time to full time. 

Oct. 30: School leaders expect to make an announcement on whether to go forward with school reentry for the next group of students. 

Nov. 4 or 5Possible Return. Students in grades three through five, students at the district’s four public separate schools for students with special needs, and high school seniors who must complete requirements for the Certified Nurse Assistant credential prior to graduation in the spring could return to school on Nov. 4 or 5. The return would depend on the findings of district's review of the COVID-19 metrics. 

Nov. 5: Expected announcement on whether to go forward with school reentry for the next group of students. 

Nov. 12: Possible Return. Middle school students and some vulnerable student populations in grades 9-12 could return to school, depending on the findings of a review of the COVID-19 metrics.

Middle school students could return on a staggered, A/B schedule for two days of in-person learning and three days of remote learning.

High School students who are homeless, in foster care, in the first two years of English language acquisition or who have disabilities and are served in a self-contained classroom could return four days per week, with remote learning on Wednesdays.

Nov. 25-27: vacation.

Nov. 30-Dec. 4: All students and staff work and learn remotely as a temporary precaution aimed at limiting possible COVID-19 spread following the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Jan. 20: Possible Return. High school students could return on a A/B schedule, depending on the findings of a review of the COVID-19 metrics. 

This is a breaking news update. Check back for more. 


Update 3:08 p.m. Wednesday

GREENSBORO — Superintendent Sharon Contreras is expected to make a major announcement about school reopening at 5:30 p.m.

Check back at greensboro.com for updates.


GREENSBORO — Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras told school board members on Tuesday night that she expected to discuss with the health department today the possibility of delaying school reentry for some grades or student groups, beyond what's currently in her school reentry plan. 

Contreras stressed that as long as the health department is willing to endorse such a move, she would prefer to do that, rather than postponing or indefinitely canceling her entire phased school reentry plan. She acknowledged that key community COVID-19 metrics she and the health department are examining aren't trending in the right direction so far.

"We are going to keep planning because this data is troubling," she said.  

She expects most elementary schools could offer parents an option for their children to continue remote learning while remaining enrolled at their schools. Board members voted to ask the state to waive class size requirements in grades K-3, with the goal of letting elementary schools have larger online classes if needed. 

It was less clear how many middle schools would be able to offer that option, Contreras said, because a high percentage of middle school parents have not yet turned in their preference forms. 

The school board in September approved five measures for determining whether to proceed with reopening schools. The three primary measures related to COVID-19 case numbers, the percentage of positive test results in the county, and the district's ability to enact strategies that could stop the spread of the disease. 

The other two metrics they are looking at are the 14-day trends in hospitalization rates, as well as intensive care unit capacity in the community.

Currently, pre-K and kindergarten students may attend half-day in person if their families choose. All other grades are doing remote learning, with some grades poised to begin in-person classes as soon as Oct. 20. 

During Tuesday night's board meeting, Contreras brought in Guilford County Health Department Director Iulia Vann to help answer questions. A few board members, however, responded with frustration or concern to explanations from Contreras, Vann and school district Chief of Staff Nora Carr about how decisions would be made on whether to go forward with phased reentry. 

In response to a question from board member Darlene Garrett, Vann said it is possible she could say it was safe to return to school even if the other metrics were not met, based on the strength of the district's plans for enacting mitigation strategies, including masking, social distancing, and keeping students in cohort groups.

Carr suggested that mitigation strategies could help compensate for less promising data in other areas.

"The metrics are meant to be guide posts; they are not rigid cutoffs," she said. 

School board member Byron Gladden then said he felt "duped" as far as the board's vote on the metrics for reopening. 

Whether or not the district is well prepared to implement mitigation strategies feels like a "gray area" to assess, he said. 

"That's where I just feel duped and a lot of parents are feeling duped," he said, explaining it hadn't been his previous understanding that mitigation strategies could outweigh harder data measures like test positivity. 

Gladden called for a vote to delay school reopening until January, because he said the district had not been clear or consistent about the metrics. That vote failed 7-2.

A few other board members expressed a sense of disconnect between what they'd taken away from the last meeting and what they were hearing at this one. 

"I am confused about what was voted on," board member T. Dianne Bellamy-Small said. 

"My understanding of the parameters was also more firm than what we are talking," said vice chairwoman Linda Welborn, though she felt that the harm to students from being out of school outweighs the risk of COVID-19. 

"I am concerned for our integrity as a board," Garrett said. "I think the general public is concerned that we aren't following what we are voting on." 

She asked school board attorney Jill Wilson if there was a legal problem related to that issue. 

Wilson said she did not see a legal problem and that it makes sense for health professionals to weigh the board's approved metrics.

Chairwoman Deena Hayes-Greene and board member Khem Irby said they understood at the time of the vote that mitigation strategies and other metrics would be weighed against each other, and were not frustrated on that point.

They stressed the need to extend grace to each other in the midst of a difficult decision making process. 

Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.​

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