Although modular units are being set up for classes while Ocracoke School is being rebuilt from Hurricane Dorian damage, classes will begin online only on Aug. 17 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: C. Leinbach

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By Peter Vankevich

Ocracoke and Mattamuskeet schools will begin the first nine weeks of the academic year online only.

The Hyde County Board of Education voted unanimously Saturday to begin the school year Aug. 17 with the state Plan C.

Prior to the vote, Superintendent Steve Basnight briefed the education commissioners on the options of Plans B and C in a lengthy meeting broadcast live on the County Public School System’s Facebook page.

“I wanted to let you know how much emotion each member of the board put into making the decision,” Basnight said after the meeting. “This wasn’t easy. As one board member said, ‘There is no win-win here; it’s lose-lose,’” he said. “But ultimately, it came down to what is best for kids; what is safest.”

With the direction now settled, Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole said on Monday they are working full speed ahead on implementing Plan C. She thought the school board will monitor the situation monthly.

She was aware that many parents would have to figure out childcare during the day.  

“I think the decision that the Board of Education made was done solely in the safety and health of the students,” she said.  “I think that they (parents/guardians) would appreciate that the decision was based on the health of the school and I think they’re probably appreciative that (the board is considering) their child’s well-being first and foremost.”

Hyde County Schools Superintendent Stephen Basnight explains on Facebook the opening plan for Hyde students.

Gov. Roy Cooper, in his July 14 announcement, gave state school districts the two choices. Plan B has a mix of classroom instruction and remote learning. Under this option, there must be a “moderate social distancing” plan that limits how many students can be in schools and on buses. It also mandates daily temperature checks and health screenings, increases school cleanings, and says face coverings must be worn by all students and school employees. Schools must also limit capacity so that they can maintain six feet of social distancing between people in classrooms and limit buses to one child per seat unless they are family members.

Cooper said he would not permit Plan A, which would permit schools to reopen for full-time with in-person instruction.

Hyde is joining more than half the N.C. school districts including nearby Dare, Martin and Currituck counties that have opted for Plan C, the online-only option. Beaufort voted to start the first four weeks under Plan C. Carteret opted to start with Plan B.

Cole said the school has made a lot of progress with reconstruction and classroom options in anticipation of when the buildings will reopen. The modular classrooms intended for middle and high school while the school is being rebuilt have been installed and now need to hook up the water, electric and internet.

Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole. Photo: P. Vankevich

“We are also rough finishing off the bottom floor of the elementary section,” she said. “And so, hopefully, when that’s finished, we can move classrooms back into the lower floor.”

The school will continue to use Ocracoke Child Care on Middle Road for offices and later for pre-K and kindergarten classes when deemed safe to do so, but will not use the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). Both locations were used starting last October when classes resumed after Hurricane Dorian badly damaged the school. Cole thanked Executive Director Dr. M. Brock Womble and the NCCAT board for permitting the school to use their facility during the Dorian crisis.

Cole said that although school sports are slated to begin Sept. 1, final decisions and a timeline on which sports can be played needs to be determined by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

Ocracoke’s fall sports are cross country, soccer and volleyball. Cole was not sure if the sports would begin under Plan C.

Cole stressed everything is moving quickly, including the status of COVID-19 in the state. All need to be flexible and be able to adapt quickly as the situations warrant, she said.

Schools in North Carolina were shut down due to safety concerns in mid-March for two weeks, but they did not reopen because of virus spread.

Ocracoke school enrollment for pre-kindergarten to grade 12 is expected to be about 165 students with eight seniors, Cole said. In the last few years, opening enrollment typically has been about 180. After Hurricane Dorian, Ocracoke School lost about 15 students.

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