GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Just days into the new school year, Guilford County Schools is already taking on several challenges.
From pandemic policies, long pick-up and drop-off lines, to failing AC units, it's a lot for parents to keep up with. District leaders addressed the issues and said their ultimate goal is keeping students in classrooms.
"We are going to do everything in our power to keep the district open because the learning loss is so massive," GCS Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras said.
Contreras said the district is ready for whatever challenges the pandemic brings, but the start of the school year has already thrown several their way.
"We certainly know we're in a global pandemic and will see cases where students are quarantined," Contreras said.
What happens if students have to quarantine?
Contreras explained how the district will operate if students needed to quarantine during the school year.
"After becoming a one-to-one district during the last year, we now have devices for every student in Guilford County Schools," Contreras said.
The superintendent said schools are distributing those devices to students to take home during the first week of school.
"Should students have to quarantine or isolate, students will have access to classroom instruction or missed work through these devices," Contreras said. "If a small number of students is quarantined, assignments will be provided through each teacher's Canvas page. Teachers will also maintain regular contact with students who are at home, and will provide feedback on student work. If large numbers of students are quarantined, reaching 50% or more of a class, teachers will use the swivel devices, a type of robotic device with a camera, to provide access to classroom instruction for both students who are quarantined and those who remain in person. If an entire class is quarantined, teachers will provide instruction remotely, including live lessons, opportunities for individual meetings, and feedback on assigned work."
Contreras said there are currently 242 GCS students in quarantine, including 99 student-athletes. Contreras also noted, it isn't the district that quarantines, it's the health department.
"Only five of these cases occurred because of attending school, but we believe that's because of our very tight protocols," Contreras said.
Those protocols are sticking around, at least for the first ten weeks.
HVAC issues in several schools
There are other issues the school system is facing that aren't pandemic-related.
"We have had about 540 work orders put forward by schools for HVAC issues in buildings," Contreras said. "This is a very high number for us."
In an email sent to parents, Contreras wrote during the past two weeks, 44 of the district's 126 schools experienced problems with air conditioning. The email also said the district is monitoring classroom temperatures throughout the day. The district said they will not hesitate to dismiss schools early or close schools temporarily if needed to protect the health of students and staff.
"Many of these systems are very old in schools and now we have a supply chain issue where there are global delays in getting the parts to repair these very old systems," Contreras said. "In some cases, the HVAC systems are so old you have to fabricate the parts, and again, there are trucking delays. We can't get the parts for 6-8 weeks, and it is very uncomfortable in the buildings."
Long car-rider drop-off and pickup lines
Another big complaint coming from parents is heavy traffic at pick-up lines. Contreras said typically, there are 35,000 students who ride the bus. This year, there are just 14,000.
"We've received quite a few calls about this and asking what is the district going to do about these traffic lines. Well, the district can't really control this," Contreras said. "Right now, about 50,000 parents are choosing to transport students, adding an additional 20,000 cars to the roads and to the schools or the areas surrounding the schools. There's no way the district can mandate that children get on the bus or tell parents you can't drive your children to school."