GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — (Editior's Note: The attached video is from a previous story.)
According to Guilford County Schools, they will not bring back first and second graders to school classrooms on Monday, October 26. This is due to ongoing concerns regarding high levels of community spread of COVID-19 in Guilford County.
The release stated that the district will continue serving pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students on a voluntary basis, and students who receive similar services will continue to receive those in person. All other students however, will continue learning online.
The call was made after district leaders consulted with local public health officials that indicated that the community’s risk factors for transmitting COVID-19 in schools were not improving.
Parents said they're not surprised by the news.
"I'm not expecting the numbers to get any better. Maybe stay the same, but not get any better. So, I'm not really surprised by this," said Laura White.
White's daughter is a first-grader at Joyner Elementary. White said she's frustrated with the uncertain future.
"There's a lot that comes into play here. It's not just, 'OK, kids are going back or kids aren't going back,' this affects a lot of people and a lot of people's schedules," White said.
Pre-K and kindergarten can still continue going into the classroom voluntarily.
Lauren Jones said her son will return Monday.
"I'm probably more nervous than excited I'm excited for him because he's excited about going to school," Jones said.
In the back of her mind is the fear of her son's school closing.
If that happens, she said she'll pull him out of school and wait until next year.
"I just feel like the uncertainty is definitely very nerve-racking and it's toying with the children's emotions a lot," Jones said.
Emily Kerley said she's beyond grateful for the teachers her daughter has.
"Who have shown extraordinary grace and patience in the face of so much uncertainty," said Kerley.
Kerley said she wishes the district would make decisions more quickly.
"All parents are juggling multiple roles right now, and need answers from our leaders in order to make plans for our children’s education. I believe our kids need to be back in school, with stringent safety guidelines of course. They need socialization, they need face-to-face guidance, and they need structure. Please let our kids go back to school!" Kerley said.
Parents can all agree, they hope more clarity on the rest of the year comes soon.
"I'm really OK with whatever they decide, I just want them to decide something and stick with it so that the rest of us can plan our lives," White said.
GCS has been working on a phased re-entry that would bring back the youngest and most vulnerable students first, including students with disabilities who are served in self-contained classrooms and the district’s four public-separate schools.
“It has been our plan from the beginning to bring our exceptional children back to school more quickly than other students, as their disabilities make it more challenging for them to access learning online,” said Superintendent Sharon Contreras, noting that while most students learn best in-person, the most vulnerable children will fall behind the most.
“While we remain hopeful that our students will be back in the classroom soon so they receive the individual and personal attention they need, the Guilford County Division of Public Health shared that health metrics have not improved,” said Contreras. “We will continue to take our guidance from public health officials and the Guilford County Board of Education will make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and staff.”
In addition, GCS also joined the ABC Collaborative, a scientific analysis board associated with the Duke University School of Medicine and Clinical Research Institute. The organization advises several North Carolina school systems on their reopening plans. According to Guilford County Schools, the collaborative has been helpful in synthesizing and summarizing COVID-19 data from a variety of sources, including scientific articles and research studies.
“These are difficult decisions with serious consequences. We need to make sure we have access to additional experts and the best information possible. Having such access will benefit our decision-making greatly,” Contreras said.
Guilford County Schools now say they will review data again next week and make an announcement regarding students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, and certain students with disabilities in adaptive curriculum classes on Friday, Oct. 30, for a possible return on Nov. 4 or 5, depending on whether the school is a polling place. Nov. 3 is a vacation day for all students, and sites that are polling places will remain closed on Nov. 4 in order to give school personnel time to reset classroom spaces and clean and disinfect the buildings.
“We are doing everything in our power to bring our students back safely, and we need the community to continue to practice safe protocols and reinforce them even more to slow the spread of the virus,” Guilford County School Board Chair Deena Hayes-Greene said.
For more information on reopening schools click here.