Two elected boards—the Craven County Board of Commissioners and the Craven County Board of Education—will meet sometime after Sept. 17 to discuss concerns over the COVID-19 remote learning plan that is in place for Craven County Schools for the first nine weeks of the school year.

The meeting was precipitated by the Board of Commissioners, which asked for the meeting when Republican members of the board questioned the necessity to keep children out of the classroom.

As COVID-19 has spread in Craven County, it has become a partisan issue over whether to restrict businesses, close schools, and even wear masks.

Craven County has 1,289 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 31 deaths. During recent weeks, Craven County Schools have reported several staff and four students have tested positive for the virus. Background here and here.

Although classes are being held remotely, children of staff and athletes who are training are exempt.

Although both are elected boards, the Craven County Board of Commissioners approves the Craven County Schools budget.

“The Craven County Board of Commissioners has deep concerns for the loss of in-person instruction time for our children, most importantly our children who are considered exceptional, at risk, and those who lack the resources of basic internet connectivity or transportation to a location where internet is provided,” Thomas Mark, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said in a letter to the Board of Education. “We know there are many situations outside any of our control that without in-person instructional opportunities our children will lost critical learning time that shapes their entire educational experience.”

“I look forward to the opportunity for both boards to discuss the most important issue of resumption of in-person education for the children of Craven County.”

Mark asked for bi-weekly reports including:

  • What percentage of students are attending public schools for the current school year, including the breakdown between Craven Live (online) and in-person once the nine-week online-only period expires. Answer: 29 percent of students are enrolled in Craven Live, while 71 percent are signed up for in-person classes.
  • What percentage of students are attending public schools for the current school year, including the breakdown between Craven Live (online) and in-person once the nine-week online-only period expires. Answer: 29 percent of students are enrolled in Craven Live, while 71 percent are signed up for in-person classes.
  • How many teacher vacancies exist by school and by grade level? Answer: 27 vacancies among 17 schools.

There were additional questions that required more explanatory answers. Those questions included:

  • What percentage of students are not completing assignments?
  • Are students given the option of hard copy materials to turn in as completed work?

And there was interest in county commissioners knowing how much money Craven County Schools has received and spent under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

David E. Hale, chairman of the Craven County Board of Education, in a reply letter to county commissioners, said the Board of Education, its leadership, and staff all desire a return to in-person instruction. 

“However, the Craven County Board of Education is in the unenviable position of making public health decisions in order to execute our mission of educating the students of Craven County Schools. What is more challenging is that although many stakeholders want us in school for reasons of providing childcare, our first responsibility is to the safety and health of our children and employees.

“The Board of Education has consulted the publicly available data at each decision point in the process to open school for the 2020-2021 school year. On July 14, 2020 at the Board’s special called meeting, Craven County reported 54 active cases of COVID19 with 8 deaths. On July 28, 2020, Craven County reported 118 active cases of COVID19 and 9 deaths. As of the writing of this letter, Craven County reported 218 active cases of COVID19 and 23 deaths (source: August 21, 2020 Craven County COVID19 case count data). 

“This data could be compared to the data at the beginning of the pandemic’s impact on Craven County in March 2020. The first report sent to the Board of Education was situation report #5. On that date, March 24, 2020, there were 2 active cases and no deaths. It becomes obvious that trends are not moving in a positive direction and are cause for continued concern and caution in our approach to returning to in-person instruction. In North Carolina at the date of this letter, 63 school systems (over 71% of students statewide) are conducting instruction virtually (on Plan C or Plan C+). This represents a collective concern beyond our county about the health and safety of students and staff to return to in-person instruction.”

As for whether assignments are being completed, there was this response:

“The best indicator of student learning is the teacher’s grade,” said Craven County Schools Superintendent Meghan Doyle in a memo. “Craven County Schools acknowledges the challenges in getting accurate measures of learning during virtual and remote instruction. As part of the state’s requirements for remote learning, Craven County Schools have put multiple strategies in place to maintain student engagement and assess student progress. Students who do not have access to reliable Internet (we estimate that to be no more than 20% of our student population) may access instructional materials on a delay. This occurs either when they connect to Internet at one of the community access points, we have published or by receiving a mobile drive. As a result, with only two weeks into the semester, we do not have accurate measures of student assignment completion. We will not have accurate data until we approach the end of our grading periods.”

There are four times when grades will be reported (and used to calculate final grades for the end of a semester and/or school year). These dates are:

  • October 23, 2020
  • January 8, 2021
  • March 18, 2021
  • June 1, 2021

The processes for learning for remote instruction (virtual and blended) are driven by the Remote Instruction Plan which was created in response to the North Carolina General Assembly requirement (Session Law 2020-3/Senate Bill 704), Doyle said. 

All Craven County students have a device (iPads mainly, but some Chromebooks or other computers as well) and access to the instruction and assignments that are essential to making progress and demonstrating their learning. 

“All students are learning from some form of virtual instruction which means they receive some synchronous instruction and asynchronous instruction,” Doyle wrote. “Synchronous instruction is direct instruction from the teacher to the whole class. Students that do not have access to reliable Internet receive mobile drives (jump drives) with recorded videos of their teacher or other demonstrations of the concepts that are part of the standard course of study (videos created by other teachers, Khan academy, or other sources of on-grade-level content).”

Asynchronous instruction is instruction that students can participate in anywhere or anytime. This can apply to the recorded lessons (as referenced above) or to assignments they complete as well as videos, readings, diagrams, presentations, problem solving, and other independent work they complete to demonstrate their learning and practice the concepts they are learning. 

“This does not mean that students are only working with a device,” Doyle said. “They will be required to write, draw, take notes, etc. One of the benefits of student devices is that they have the ability to take pictures of their ‘hard-copy’ work when it is not digital and submit it as a photo. Some students may receive some hard-copy materials (often called worksheet packets). However, we have tried to limit this type of instruction because it is passive, at times difficult to demonstrate student learning, and often not representative of the rigor required of the North Carolina standard course of study.

“As we approached instruction for this school year, we wanted to be sure that students were receiving instruction from their teachers as a priority, able to learn the standard course of study (not simply review old material and not make progress) and were connected to their peers in their grade level to the extent possible. Our schools have created processes to help students get all that they need to be able to learn on-grade-level material and be successful at learning that material whether they are able to connect to the Internet reliably or have to depend on the jump drives to receive their instruction on a delay,” Doyle said.

In addition to the ways that instruction is delivered. Craven County Schools has also implemented messaging systems (using simple text messaging) that students can use to connect to their teachers if they don’t have a Wi-Fi connection to ask questions and/or receive extra assistance. Teachers attempt to contact students daily through their instruction and with parents regularly based on the age of the students and their level of independence.

The two boards are working out details over how and when they will hold their joint meeting.

As for CARES Act receipts and expenditures, here are the breakdowns (click to zoom):

The Craven County Schools main office in New Bern. Google Streetview image

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