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Alamance-Burlington Schools pivots from initial back-to-school plan

Alamance-County Schools' superintendent will recommend remote learning to begin the year at the ABSS board meeting Thursday.

ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. — Alamance-County School's superintendent will recommend remote learning to the district's board to begin the school year. The recommendation turns from the school district's initial back-to-school plan, announced last week.

"During this first grading period of at-home learning on August 17, we will continue to monitor the COVID19 metrics to determine when we believe a return to in-school learning, our Plan B, can begin," said ABSS Superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson.

Benson made the announcement Tuesday morning. He said on Thursday he will recommend schools begin the year operating under North Carolina's 'Plan C' to the district's board of education. Plan C features remote learning for all students.

"They don't realize the strain that it's gonna have on parents," said ABSS parent Corissa Hogan.

Hogan said her two middle-school-age children were looking forward to returning to class under the district's Plan B.

This is a shift from Alamance-Burlington's initial back-to-school announcement where students would follow a learning schedule staggering in-person attendance. However, a board of education member Patsy Simson said the board never voted on that decision.

The superintendent's announcement comes as many parents are trying to make plans for how to balance work and students' schooling.

"When you got four kids and the activities and after school sports, you work it out but you know it takes a little planning. Now, this being like three weeks [out] it's not an easy thing to do," said ABSS parent Josh Morris.

Some parents and teachers were relieved by the announcement.

"I think Plan B was a little aggressive with bringing students directly back into the schools when we're still very uncertain how this disease could spread so quickly," Casey Eggleston said.

Eggleston teaches at Ray Street Academy, the district's alternative school.

ABSS said an initial survey of parents found a split between how to return to school.

Benson said 8,300 families participated in that survey with close to half responding that they wanted in-person classes. Forty percent said they would prefer remote learning.

"We are hoping with more time and improvement in COVID-19 metrics, more families will select in-person learning," Benson said.

Other triad school districts have also chosen to use remote learning for the beginning of their school years but Hogan was surprised by the superintendent's announcement.

"I had answered all the surveys. I don't know why they're proceeding with this when the outcome that they were looking for has a vast majority of them wanting to go back," Hogan said.

The superintendent said other surveys of parents and teachers will continue until after school starts.

Eggleston worries about how effective social distancing and mask-wearing would be for younger students. He thinks remote learning may be the only way to stop the spread.

"If we go too hard initially, we're gonna have to retroactively go back and we're gonna be in the exact same position we are now, you know, further on down the road, Eggleston said." 

Benson said he will recommend ABSS eventually transitions to in-person learning for students following Plan B guidelines. He hopes the potential transition period will take place as soon as nine weeks from the start of the school year.

Benson said he expects the school board to support his recommendation. The board will meet at 10 a.m. on Thursday to officially review Benson's recommendation and decide. Until the board votes, ABSS will remain under its initial AB plan.

A statement from Alamance-Burlington School System Board of Education chair Allison Gant said Benson was given the authority to make plans without their approval.

Simpson said the board gave Benson the authority to make the initial back-to-school decision in March in order to react quickly to the state's public health announcements.

"On items that require a fast turnaround, not knowing we would be where we are today with having to decide about school," Simpson said.

RELATED: Alamance-Burlington Schools announces A-B day schedule as part of reopening school plan for new academic year

Last week, ABSS announced students would return to schools under a Plan B model operating on an A-B day schedule

The new schedule meant one-half of students would attend class at their school on Monday and Wednesday and on alternating Fridays. The second half of the students would attend class at their school on Tuesday and Thursday and alternating Fridays.

The district initially planned for students to work on lessons created by their teachers at home.

School leaders said they would distribute technology devices to students.

Watch the full press conference:

More about the initial back-to-school plan:

RELATED: Alamance-Burlington Schools parents and teachers raise questions over district's back-to-school plan

RELATED: School districts announcing reopening plans | Here’s what we know

RELATED: How easily do kids spread COVID-19? It depends on their age, study finds

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