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Stanly County Schools discusses moving to Plan A for middle schools during testing

The Stanly County Board of Education Tuesday night passed a motion giving Superintendent Jarrod Dennis the go-ahead to apply for Plan A for sixth through eighth grades during testing in May.

This would allow classes to come together as they take end-of-grade tests during an eight-day period (excluding Fridays) at the end of the year. Middle schools have been operating under Plan B since the start of the school year, where students rotate between in-person and remote learning.

End-of-grade tests were canceled last school year, since the statewide stay-at-home order was still in effect.

Dennis told the board that the Curriculum and Instruction and Testing and Accountability departments first discussed with him the option of bringing back entire middle school classes for testing, which would help streamline the whole process. Otherwise, if students in the same class were tested in groups, “it’s going to take me twice as long to test everybody,” Dennis said.

In order to test each middle school’s network bandwidth to make sure it can handle large numbers of students online at one time, Dennis said fifth grade classes would take an optional online tutorial.

“I’m gonna make sure before I apply for this, that our network can handle entire classrooms…at one time at the middle school going on through NCTest,” Dennis said.

The idea to apply for Plan A is still theoretical and Dennis would only do so if the school system can get all the proper logistical pieces together to safely support increased numbers of students testing in the schools at one time.

In each classroom, students, who will wear masks, would maintain a distance of at least three feet, which is in accordance with CDC guidelines.

When it comes to full-time virtual students, they could come to school on a Friday afternoon for testing, he said.

Dennis mentioned that the option of using extra space, like auditoriums and gymnasiums, to test several classes has been discussed.

Board member and former middle school teacher Glenda Gibson voiced concerns about the proposed initiative, including the potential for “chaos” with whole classes together for the first time; students feeling uncomfortable if they have to test in a new environment; and the possibility of a COVID outbreak with an increased number of students back at the schools.

Dennis said that testing in spaces other than classrooms would only occur “as a last resort” and that he expects the testing environment to be calm.

Dennis said he was told that each middle school feels it has adequate room to test classes of students, including students who need special accommodations, without needing large spaces like auditoriums or gymnasiums. With its larger student population, the school that is of concern is West Stanly Middle, but Dennis said if more space is needed, the six mobile units and the media center could be used.

Speaking to the potential for an outbreak, Dennis mentioned that fifth grade students are now all back together in the middle schools “and we haven’t seen that (an outbreak) yet.”

In terms of transportation, students would be sitting at least two to a seat, Transportation Director Michael Lambert said.

“We’ll space as well as we can, but it will be a challenge for us,” he said, noting that bus stop times would likely be affected.

Gibson asked if the staff had looked into any alternatives beyond bringing all the students back together.

Dr. Amy Blake-Lewis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the school system has asked for an extended testing window to allow for testing on the A/B rotation schedule. If that is granted, testing would start the first week in May and last through the month, which would cut into instructional time.

To keep the 10-day testing window for middle school students, set by the state, “we simply can’t do that on an A/B rotation without extending past the 10 days,” Blake-Lewis said.

Blake-Lewis mentioned that the middle schools are “our newest schools” in the district and so “their classrooms are larger, their hallways are wider, they have taller ceilings,” so in terms of area, “they are larger spaces for our students.”

Dennis admitted that initially he wasn’t a proponent of bringing back the students, but the more he talked with his staff, he doesn’t see another option. He plans to have another school board meeting before applying for Plan A he told the board members.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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