After the first four-and-a-half weeks of the school year, Brunswick County Schools (BCS) intends to switch from 100% remote learning to a blended model with students attending at least two days of in-person classes each week.

However, about 3,500 children and their families are opting to continue at-home learning through the remainder of the semester. That leaves 9,000 students returning to classrooms mid-September, likely under the “A/B day plan.”

The district is currently working on details of that plan in which two cohorts of students – Group A and Group B – would alternate between in-person and remote instruction days.

Superintendent Dr. Jerry Oates will present the specifics to the school board at its August 4 meeting.

At the last session on July 22, Oates admitted the district received “warranted” criticism in the spring after schools – somewhat abruptly – closed in March.

“It was a weekend turnaround in which we had to forget what we had been doing for years and what teachers have been trained to do for years and step into a new arena,” Oates said. “But since that time, there’s been much work, much reflection, much study on what we can do better in terms of remote learning.”

Oates indicated he’d heard of a lack of accountability among both students and teachers, with some educators not assigning work for weeks at a time last semester.

The school district has since put together a “remote instruction plan,” submitted to the state Department of Public Instruction, that outlines how teachers will educate children from their homes moving forward. It’s available to view at http://bcswan.net/remotelearning.

“The best thing about this is we’re not where we were in March anymore,” said Assistant Superintendent Molly White during the July meeting. “We’re prepared and we’re ready to do what we have to do on whatever is decided.”

According to the document, each school will develop its own version of the remote plan to guide the teachers in developing cohesive lessons.

The amount of time spent on assignments will vary based on students’ level and the content, although BCS has recommended time ranges for core subjects: Kindergarten through second grade should expect a maximum of 90 minutes of work per day in their core classes; third through fifth graders should work up to two hours per day; middle schoolers should be learning up to three hours per day; and high schoolers should have a maximum of four-and-a-half hours of instruction each day.

Attendance will still be taken on at-home days, with a student considered present if they complete their daily assignments and check in with their teachers.

Back-to-school orientations will also be virtual this year and will vary in how they’re handled from school to school.

Students without a computer may rent Chromebooks starting the week of August 10. More details on that pickup are forthcoming, according to BCS.

But, how will the district ensure equal access for kids without WiFi at home?

That’s been a pressing question when making decisions, considering roughly 10% of BCS families face connectivity issues, according to parent survey data.

The remote instruction plan describes that children will be able to receive flash drives and Chromebooks equipped for offline access. Teachers could also provide children with print packets, which parents or guardians would likely need to drop off at the school by their due date, clarified BCS spokesperson Daniel Seamans.

The district also intends to provide “open-air areas of access” on its campuses with WiFi transmitters that reach parking lots and activity fields.

Additionally, the district is seeking information from local internet providers on potential discounted services during the pandemic, as well as contacting businesses and local organizations to request they set up free guest internet access during remote learning days. BCS is putting together a list of participating sites.

Once schools open mid-September, students will need to follow along with statewide safety requirements before stepping inside the buildings, and continue to do so once inside.

Some of those regulations include: keeping at least six feet of social distances; mandating face coverings for teachers and students, including on the bus; screening for symptoms and checking temperatures; teaching, reinforcing and scheduling hand washing into the day; avoiding sharing of items; allowing time for cleaning between activities; and limiting bus seats to one passenger, unless family members ride together.

Seamans said no additional teachers will be hired to monitor the protocols.

“All school staff will work together to ensure all state safety (and) health requirements are followed,” he added.

It’s possible some teachers may retire or resign given BCS’s pending decision to reopen the schools, especially if they identify as a high-risk individual. In a human resources survey, 95% of the 1,100-plus teachers indicated they would return to work.

“All staff have the option to resign and that is, of course, a decision individuals make on their own, but the district will be offering reasonable accommodations for those who require them,” Seamans said, referring to high-risk employees.

According to the state’s “Plan B” guidance, it’s recommended that schools enable at-risk teachers and staff to minimize face-to-face contact, maintain a six feet distance from others, modify job responsibilities to minimize exposure risk or, if possible, telework.