Burke County Public Schools students will return to “Plan A” on Monday, April 12, the Burke County Board of Education decided during Monday night’s regular meeting.
In a 7-0 vote at Morganton’s Olive Hill Resource Center, the board decided students in kindergarten through 12th grade will resume in-person learning five days per week. Burke Virtual Academy students will continue learning virtually to keep numbers down.
Under the school reopening bill recently signed into law by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, Plan A can entail minimal social distancing of less than 6 feet and does not limit school buses to one student per seat. Masks will continue to be required.
Board members decided the timing of April 12 is right due to the fact it comes immediately after spring break, which is from April 2 through April 11. It also will give BCPS teachers who are getting the COVID-19 vaccine time to be two weeks clear of their second dose.
“We do have teachers who are concerned about that, and I fully understand that,” said Chairman Buddy Armour. “You’re adding more days and more contact to their lives. I just want to make sure we don’t leave them out in this process.”
The decision also was made as evidence of declining test scores for high schoolers mounted.
“It appears that there were some really drastic drops in our Math 1, Math 3 and Biology (End of Course exams),” said board member Wendi Craven. “ ... Especially at Freedom High School, the Math 1 scores dropped really dramatically, which is our high school with the highest minority population. I feel like it is very, very important that we go ahead and move to Plan A to get those students back as quickly as possible.
“It’s just very apparent that they have struggled terribly last semester.”
Board member Seth Hunt Jr., who made the motion to return to Plan A, said BCPS will have to adjust its professional development schedule, which has been taking place on fully remote Wednesdays.
The full-time return of students to the classroom will come about 13 months after it initially was ceased for the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. Students returned to in-person learning part-time on Plan B earlier this school year after starting it fully remotely on Plan C, then elementary students transitioned to Plan A four days per week in February.
A trio of parents used Monday night’s public comments portion of the meeting to implore the board to return to Plan A, citing what they believe to be educational and mental health strains brought on by remote learning.
The smattering of community members in attendance at the meeting applauded the board’s decision.
Weller announces resignation
At the end of the open portion of Monday’s meeting, board member Edna Weller announced her resignation effective March 31. Weller said she has valued her nine and a half years on the board and the progress and growth experienced during that span, but is leaving due to what she perceives as politicism on the board.
Reading from a prepared statement, Weller openly criticized two of her fellow board members.
“The school board is a governing body that hires and supervises the superintendent, and it also approves policy” Weller said. “I consider it a servant role. For about eight years, the board grew and functioned as a cohesive unit, adding value to the system. The last year-and-a-half has been tumultuous dealing with COVID-19 and a small group of politically-minded citizens with an agenda to take control.
“This has created chaos and divisiveness. I am sorry to say that I have observed Ms. Craven and Mr. Hunt being a part of that. I am not a political person and do not ever want to be. I consider this the time to tender my resignation to the board, effective March 31. I will find another way to support and help our students grow and succeed. I will greatly miss those I have become so close to. I leave you with love and best wishes for future success.”
Cheryl Shuffler, public relations officer for BCPS, says to expect a special-called school board meeting within the next week or so to address the impending vacancy, which will be filled using board policy 2115.
The policy instructs the remaining board members to elect a qualified person to fill the seat. As Weller represents the Western District, the board is obligated by the policy to appoint a person eligible in that district to take the seat.
Per the policy, which last was used to appoint Hunt in 2016 upon Catherine Thomas’ resignation, the new board member will serve until the next school board election date, which is this November. Weller, who was reelected in 2019, would have served through 2023 had she continued to fill the seat.
The board seats currently filled by Armour, Hunt and veteran board member Sam Wilkinson are up for election this year.
Justin Epley is a staff writer for The News Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.