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Dare public schools stay with remote learning

Dare County Board of Education voted 5-2 to continue remote learning for all grades for the third quarter of the current school term.

The quarter ends March 18.

Keeping the current set up was Option 1 of five presented by Dare Schools Superintendent John Farrelly, who said options 1, 2 and 3 are “what Dare County Schools can currently staff, meeting safety guidelines.”

The decision was made at the end of a two and a quarter hour special meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

Dare School reopened Oct. 26, 2020, with pre-k through 5 students in class and grades 6 through 12 hybrid and virtual learning available for kindergarten through 12.

By Week 2, coronavirus started impacting staff members.

The schools returned to remote learning Nov. 13. About 60 students with extended content standards classrooms have been served face-to-face since Nov. 13. Athletic programs have remained open.

Farrelly reminded the board that the November return to remote learning was because the system did not have staff to deliver the education program.

Board member Joe Tauber said “we don’t want starting and stopping.”

At the December board meeting, several public comments criticized decisions by Dare County Health Department director Sheila Davies.

The county’s health director is “empowered to exercise quarantine and isolation authority” under circumstances in which the public health is endangered, states North Carolina General Statute Sec. 130A-145. According to Farrelly’s presentation, “any applicable board policies, including, but not limited to Dare County Board of Education Policy 4230 – Communicable Diseases, are subject to the North Carolina public health code and school officials may not supersede the authority of the State and local health officials.”

Davies made a presentation to the Dare school board on Tuesday night.

She quickly briefed the board on Dare’s current COVID-19 situation: cases are rising rapidly with a total cumulative total of 2,102 and a positivity rate of 18.8%. Since Jan. 1, 2021, 480 new cases have been lab-confirmed, representing 43% of all cases. Coronavirus is spreading through direct contact with someone who has the virus.

She broke out the number of cases in the 18 and under category, citing a total of 373 cases with 287 residents. From Jan. 4 through Jan. 10, school associated cases were 16. Total lab-confirmed, school associated cases number 97.

She briefed the board on quarantine rules and then turned to vaccine, which she called the “glimmer of hope.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Davies would not commit to a timeline for vaccinating Dare Schools employees. Under the protocol in place at the time, school staff fall under Vaccine Prioritization Phase 1b, groups 2 and 3. Group 2 is all school staff over age 50 and Group 3 is all school staff ages 49 and under.

However, on Thursday, Jan. 14, Farrelly announced a vaccination clinic on Saturday, Jan. 23 to inoculate all Dare School employees who want the vaccination; College of The Albemarle personnel and Dare County law enforcement. The clinic runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at First Flight High School.

To accomplish this mass inoculation, Vidant Hospital in Greenville provided Dare County with 1,100 shots of Pfizer vaccine. The second shot clinic will be held February 13 also at First Flight High School. Two weeks after the second shot vaccinated individuals have attained 95% immunity.

At the Jan. 12 meeting, Davies informed the board that school nurses would not be available every day in each Dare County school. The nurses are an integral part of contact tracing and inoculation of vaccine.

Farrelly said “we are definitely asking a lot of our teachers. All options are taxing our teachers.”

The superintendent preferred Options 1, 2 or 3 which keep more teachers available to cover empty classrooms. Option 3 featured face-to-face instruction pre-k through fifth grade four days a week with Monday set aside for planning. Grades 6 through 12 would remain in remote learning.

Board Chair Mary Ellon Ballance said remote learning was consistent now and students are already in a routine. “I know a lot of kids are suffering,” said Ballance.

Making the motion to stay in remote learning was board member David Twiddy. The motion was seconded by board member Margaret Lawler. Voting no were board members Tauber and Susan Bothwell.

With the vaccination clinics in place, the board’s decision about when to return to the classroom may change. Farrelly wrote in an email that the school board could discuss the matter at the next board meeting set for Feb. 9 or call a special board meeting.

In his email, Farrelly thanked Vidant Hospitals in Pitt and Dare counties, Davies, Dare County Manager Bobby Outten, Dare County Emergency Management director Drew Pearson and staff members of the Dare County Department of Health and Human Services.

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