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Board of Education Approves Transition to Plan A for Grades 2-5

Here are the top 5 things you need to know from this message: 

  1. 2nd and 3rd grade will begin in-person learning Monday - Thursday on October 20, 2020.
  2. 4th and 5th grade will begin Monday - Thursday on November 30, 2020. The extra time will be needed to implement a plan to reduce the larger class sizes to improve social distancing between students.
  3. Fridays will continue to be remote learning for all K-12 students.
  4. We will continue to offer 100% Remote Learning through Online Catawba for families who are not comfortable with in-person learning. 
  5. Principals will be in touch this week about an opportunity to switch to/from 100% Remote Learning if there is space available and if there is available staffing to accommodate the requests.  

Hello Catawba County Schools families,

Yesterday evening, the Board of Education voted to transition to in-person learning four days per week for all second- through fifth-grade students as allowed by the Governor’s latest orders. I want to thank our Board of Education for all their time and detailed analysis of the large amount of information involved in making this very difficult decision. 

As we worked through this decision, our guiding priority was to balance the importance of face-to-face learning and ensuring that our staff and students remain healthy. 

Based on the public health data, parent/staff survey, and other factors, our board feels that a socially distanced return to in-person learning for our 2nd-5th graders is in the best interest of our students, families, staff, and community. 

We realize that not all families are comfortable with in-person learning or a transition to Plan A. We will continue offering a 100% Remote option through Online Catawba. We will consider requests to switch to/from 100% remote learning IF there are available slots at your school and IF there is staffing availability. Your principals will be in touch this week about the next steps.

Below is a summary of Plan A, plus a snapshot of the data presented to the Board of Education:  

Plan A Details

  • 2nd and 3rd grade will begin Monday - Thursday on October 20, 2020.
    • Class sizes are smaller, so maintaining social distancing is more feasible.
  • 4th and 5th grade will begin Monday - Thursday on November 30, 2020. 
    • Transitioning our upper grades is more difficult because many of our classes have 28-31 students, and safe social distancing may not be possible.
    • We will be putting a plan in place to get class sizes down to a maximum of 22-23 students in every 4th and 5th grade class in the district. Reducing class sizes mid-year is a very involved process and will take time. 
    • In some cases, students may be assigned to new teachers, change classrooms within the same school, and more, to ensure that we can provide the safest return for all of our students and staff.
  • Fridays will continue to be remote learning for all students K-12 regardless if we are in Plan B or Plan A.
    • Teachers will continue to teach both remote and in-person students and need Fridays for planning, virtual meetings for students and parents, and more.
  • All safety and sanitization procedures are still required, including face coverings, temperature checks, and symptom screenings. 
  • We will continue offering QUEST child care, but it may look different. There will be NO CHANGE to QUEST through October 20. We will have an update soon. 
  • We will continue to provide bus transportation. However, students will not be fully socially distanced because of the increased capacity. If you are not comfortable with your student riding two per seat, please consider bringing your student to/from school, if possible.
  • Students who want to switch enrollment plans (from the A/B/C “Hybrid” plan to 100% remote instruction or vice versa) will only have the option of switching IF there are available slots and IF there is staffing availability. 
    • Principals will be in touch this week about this opportunity if you are interested. 

Survey Data

Last week, we surveyed our K-6 staff and parents of 2nd-5th grade students currently attending in-person two days per week. 

  • The majority of both our families and staff supported the transition to Plan A.
    • 81% of surveyed families supported the return to Plan A for grades 2-5. 
    • 52% of staff supported the return to Plan A for grades 2-5
  • We analyzed the data by grade level and staff position to understand the unique concerns across all stakeholders. 
  • We also carefully examined all ~1,800 comments from parents and ~400 comments from our staff and sorted them into common themes. We further sorted this data by those who supported the transition to Plan A and those who didn’t. 
  • The most significant concern was the ability to safely social distance our students in our upper grades (4th and 5th) with larger class sizes. The state mandates a maximum of 21 students in grades K-3; therefore, social distancing is easier to accomplish in the younger grades.

Public Health Data

The director of Public Health for Catawba County, Jennifer McCracken, and her team have been a tremendous asset to our district. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank them as well as our outstanding team of school nurses. Together, they are responsible for managing the contract tracing, subsequent quarantines, and isolations. This team also ensures a healthy return for all of our staff and students once they have met the state’s isolation requirements. 

Below is a summary of the statistics that Ms. McCracken provided:

  • Catawba County has a 5.6% test positivity rate. 
  • 13% of positive tests have been in children and adolescents from birth through age 17. 
  • To date, there have not been any COVID-19 clusters identified in any of our local school systems. Any spread has come from the community and not in our schools. (A “cluster” is defined as five or more confirmed cases with a plausible school-based transmission linkage.) 
  • NCDHHS said there had not been a significant rise in case numbers due to K-12 schools returning to in-person learning. 

Other Notable News

We have several things to celebrate as well: 

  • We are excited to expand our partnership with the Catawba County Health Department and are hiring two additional full-time nurses and six part-time contact tracers. These welcomed additions have been made possible from federal and state COVID-19 funding. 
  • We’re continuing to hire more custodial staff for each of our schools. Our current priority will be to add additional custodians to our elementary schools as more grades return. Our rigorous safety and sanitation procedures are the same. The only difference is that we will have more students in our buildings and on our buses.
  • Lastly, our BOE passed a Plan B Bonus for all employees through federal and state COVID-19-relief funding. Our full-time permanent employees will receive $250 and our part-time permanent employees will receive $125. I am so thankful for our board and all of our staff working overtime to help our students return to learn as safely and effectively as possible.  

It goes without saying that our staff has been working harder than they ever have. I’m proud of everyone: our teachers and TAs, our maintenance, transportation, and custodial staff, our child nutrition, administration, and central office team, and everyone in between. I’m proud to be part of this team that is working together to make education better for our students while staying safe, despite this unprecedented global pandemic.

I am also proud of all our students and their families who have worked tremendously hard in a complicated and challenging situation. Thank you to our fantastic community here in Catawba County. 

Please stay tuned for information specific to your school that will be coming out later this week.

Very sincerely,

Matt Stover