Craven County commissioners say they are getting inundated by people telling them disagreeing with nine-week delay in resuming in-person classes at Craven County schools.
The board requested a board-to-board meeting with the Craven County Board of Education no later than Sept. 15 to discuss the decision to delay the start of in-person teaching by nine weeks.
The board will also request specific information from the school district by Aug. 28 about attendance, whether assignments are being completed by students, and other information that was still being formulated.
Board Chairman Thomas Mark brought up the issue during Monday’s meeting. He said it is important to have daily teaching in schools, especially K-3, children at risk, special needs kids, and those without internet service.
Craven County has over 500 employees who are all working despite the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s courageous on their part,” he said, adding that he understands that some teachers are reluctant to be in a classroom setting over fears of contracting the virus.
It is unclear whether Mark was unaware of what a classroom full of children is like when compared to county workers in less confined quarters.
Earlier in the meeting, County Health Director Scott Harrelson said he expects COVID-19 to spread once in-class instruction resumes.
If you bring kids back to schools, there is a very high likelihood there will be COVID-19 activity, much like there is spread of the flu, which spreads through schools “like wildfire,” Harrelson said.
The board was nearly unanimous in expressing concerns about the nine-week delay. The only exception was Commissioner Johnnie Sampson Jr., who said the risk of children contracting the virus and risking death outweigh any other considerations.
There is a strong chance that some students going to school will catch the virus and some might die.
“I don’t want that on my conscience. … I don’t see how they are going to be able to protect these kids. … Even doing the best you can do, people are still catching it.”
Editor’s update: Commissioner Sampson tested positive for COVID-19 in early October 2020. He died a month later, on Nov. 5, 2020.
Commissioner Denny Bucher said he has been getting inundated with phone calls and emails from people upset about the nine-week delay. He said only one person called and said they thought the school district is doing the right thing.
Commissioner George Liner said there should be a joint meeting, board to board, by first week in September to discuss plans for school environment at end of nine weeks and for whole school year.
Monday was the first day of instruction for Craven County Schools. In-class instruction has been put on hold for the first nine weeks of the school year due to concerns over the pandemic.
Meanwhile, neighboring counties including Pitt, Pamlico, Carteret, and Jones have stuck to in-person instruction schemes.
Then again, Craven County has the highest number of deaths among its six neighboring counties. Of the 20 who have died, all of them had preexisting conditions that contributed to their deaths and none of them were children.
The first day of school is often a complicated affair, but having a county of 103,000 residents have all their children attend class online has its own complications.
Parents received notification acknowledging that many of them may have experienced difficulty accessing the only system on Monday. Commissioner Jason Jones read the text alert aloud about how the system was overloaded at state level.
Jones wants to know how many students are actually attending each day.
“There are homes in the county where both parents had to go to work today,” he said. “Children didn’t have technical support.”
His own child stayed home while he left for work, but a friend helped his child through the process.
“I don’t think I could have done it, help log them in,” Jones said.
“I’m thinking about the students who are being left behind … because of a lack of internet service and because of the lack of support that they have at home.”
Jones said he is not demanding they open schools up. He just feels that there are a lot of kids who are not going to participate and not going to receive an education.
“We want to know how that will be addressed,” he said.
Many parents are taking their kids to other group settings including churches and the YMCA to take advantage of internet access and supervised instruction.
“How can you say you have to close down a public school, but then take them to YMCA or a camp?” he said. “All we are doing is putting the burden on someone else.”
Commissioner E.T. Mitchell, who made the motion, said that if schools are open, parents have option to keep children at home.
“We don’t want to put anyone at risk, who shouldn’t be,” she said. “We want to focus on vulnerable ones and give parents a choice.”
Sampson said most parents want their kids to go to school, but they also know that the disease is a problem.
“I just can’t put myself to vote on something that just about gives my OK for kids to go out there and die trying to go to school,” he said.
The focus needs to be on conquering the disease, he said.
The vote was 6-1, with Sampson casting the sole no vote.