By Connie Leinbach
Following Gov. Roy Cooper’s call Tuesday afternoon for public schools to reopen, the Hyde County Board of Education voted Tuesday night to authorize in-person learning for both the mainland and Ocracoke.
Though Plan B is effective immediately, Ocracoke School is not yet fully open, though one-on-one instruction will be allowed, and mainland schools will open Feb. 16.
Plan B calls for moderate social distancing, requiring people to be six feet apart, as per the COVID-19 pandemic guidelines.
The schedules of how many days school will be in session was left to the administrations to decide, but the board discussed three days for Mattamuskeet starting Feb. 16 and two days for Ocracoke, with the superintendent’s discretion to add more days if all goes well.
The two-week lead time gives teachers and administrators time to figure out how things will work while maintaining social distancing and wearing masks. Small-group learning will return for Ocracoke immediately as well, but full in-person learning will not happen until the school buildings are ready.
Superintendent Stephen Basnight explained that staffing challenges may arise if some staff get sick because the district does not have a large pool of staff to draw from. That may necessitate some remote learning days.
In accordance with Cooper’s recommendation, no inside sports will be allowed.
Basnight noted that the Hyde County COVID-19 case count as of Friday was down to 16 active cases from a high of 150 around the end of December.
“But (the cases have been) coming down over each consecutive day as well as hospitalizations, which is also good,” he said.
Basnight told the board that a survey about vaccines of school staff showed that of roughly 80 responses, about 15 felt they probably would not get the vaccine.
He explained that staff developed a list of those who wanted a vaccine and that anytime Hyde County Health has had extra vaccine on the mainland, they would call someone on the database to come in and get vaccinated.
In Cooper’s Tuesday briefing Dr. Mandy Cohen, the N.C. Department of Health & Human Services secretary, said several times that the state’s biggest problem is not having enough vaccines.
“Even with the thousands of students and teachers attending school in-person across the state, we have seen few COVID-19 clusters in our public schools,” Cohen said.
She also said that increasing evidence suggests that, with prevention measures in place, there are low rates of COVID-19 transmission in primary and secondary school settings even with high rates of community transmission. In addition, ongoing medical studies and peer-reviewed data affirm that children infected with COVID-19 generally have mild or no symptoms and are less likely to spread the disease.
The two-week timeframe before Hyde schools reopens will give more time for the Ocracoke school buildings to be finished.
Ocracoke School Principal Leslie Cole noted that the Dare County fire marshal today required that the fire alarms be installed in each of the 10 modular classrooms. In the old part of the elementary building, an electric panel still has to be replaced.
In addition, new flooring has been put down on the ground floor, and toilets and sinks need to be installed in that building.
Basnight said last week’s storm delayed installation of these materials and that two crews working on the elementary school have had to deal with COVID-19, which shut work down for a couple of weeks.
He said there are enough classrooms ready on Ocracoke, including the Ocracoke Childcare building, to bring kids back in a staged process if necessary.
Angie Todd, Ocracoke’s representative, noted that completion of these tasks will play a role in the group’s decision in going back to in-person learning.
“You can’t send kids to school if there’s no building to put them in,” she said. “So I just want to make it clear for anybody who’s listening, that whatever decision we come to tonight that has to play a part in it. There’s no building. I just want to make sure that everybody understands that decisions are not necessarily only based on COVID. It’s based on the fact that we may be down to just the daycare.”
Board member Lindsey Mooney noted that these buildings, especially the modular units, have been up and that the fire marshal should have been down here sooner.
“Somebody’s falling short on the job they’re supposed to do,” he said.
Basnight acknowledged that and said he will be on the horn to the fire marshal first thing Wednesday morning.
Cole said all of the debris from the demolition of the old building has been removed and beginning on Feb. 9, Elevated Environmental Corporation, the demolition company, will work on closing the gaping hole in the gym building. That should take about three weeks, she said.
After the regular meeting concluded, the board went into a closed session.