White face mask with a map of the world is lying on a green background coronavirus pandemic

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GREENSBORO — As Guilford County Schools leaders on Thursday contemplated the possible return of students to school buildings in August, school board members brought up a series of hairy questions.

How would mask wearing be enforced in situations where it’s required? What happens if a student has a parent or guardian at home who is at high risk if they get COVID-19?

Superintendent Sharon Contreras is expecting to share on Tuesday some proposals for the reopening of school next school year for the board members to consider. The board met virtually on Thursday to go over state requirements and guidelines for the reopening or school in advance of that presentation.

Some of the questions related to the virtual academies the district is also working to create.

In response to a question, Guilford County Schools administrators said they expect the two new virtual schools to have 2,000 slots for students each, for a total of 4,000 slots.

Earlier in the summer, school administrators had framed those schools as an option for families that don’t feel comfortable sending their students back to the buildings.

However, as board member Anita Sharpe pointed out that is a small fraction of the school district, which had about 72,000 students last year.

School administrators said first priority to get a slot in the virtual academies would go to students who are at high health risk. Board member Khem Irby brought up that some students may have a parent or guardian at home, such as a grandparent, who is at high risk for COVID, and thus potentially at risk if the child brought the disease home.

In response to Irby’s suggestion, Contreras agreed that having a guardian at high risk could be a second level of priority for getting one of the slot, after the child themselves being at high risk.

Students in the virtual academies are not necessarily the only students who would be doing remote learning next school year.

It’s actually still possible that every student might be put on remote learning for the school year, for one thing. And under one of several possible scenarios, the school district will have to cut the number of students in buildings and classrooms. That would mean they would have to adopt a blend of in-person and remote learning, Contreras said. And it could be some students in person and some at home, or some kind of alternating system.

Two different board members asked how mask wearing would be enforced for students. Chief of Staff Whitney Oakley said she thought they would focus on trying to establish a firm culture from the beginning of mask wearing for students and staff, rather than creating punishments for not wearing a mask. However board attorney Jill Wilson pointed out that the answer to that question may not be entirely in school district hands, since they are subject to whatever local state and federal laws and executive orders may come down the pipeline in the future.

School leaders say they are pressing ahead to best figure out how to educate students in the pandemic, while realizing that whatever the school district decides they are unlikely to please everyone.

“Half of our constituents are in one place and half are in another so no matter what we do there will be criticism,” Contreras said.

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

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