Several schools shifted to remote learning this week due to rising quarantines, positive Covid cases

Endy Elementary, Millingport Elementary and Richfield Elementary all switched to remote learning Friday as a result of staff shortages.

Though it could change, the plan is for students to come back to school on Thursday, following the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and two professional development days.

“The schools or classrooms that shift to remote learning are directly caused by the increased number of students and staff absent and quarantined within the building,” Hope Miller-Drye, administrative and school board assistant, wrote in an email. “The schools simply do not have the instructional staff on campus to operate and provide effective instruction.”

The school system will continue working with Stanly County Health Department “and adjust accordingly to keep the safety of our students and staff a top priority,” Miller-Drye added.

The shift follows several others schools, including Albemarle Middle, East Albemarle Elementary and Stanly STEM Early College High, which had to transitioned to remote learning earlier this week due to staff shortages as a result of quarantines. Other schools have had certain grade levels switch to online learning. Eighth grade students at West Stanly Middle, for example, have been working remotely since Wednesday.

The district’s website mentions some schools have moved to remote learning due to the “current rising rate of absenteeism and quarantining requirements for our staff and students,” but it didn’t mention specific names.

“We are approaching a critical point for operational effectiveness for face-to-face instruction,” the post on the website read. “We are monitoring this situation and decisions may be made in response to the overall welfare of our staff and students.  If school schedules change, parents and students will be notified by email and phone messages.”

Under a recent change in state law, schools can only switch to remote instruction if they either don’t have enough staff or too many students are quarantined. More than 1,000 students and staff members were quarantined last week, the highest total since September, and 232 were positive with COVID-19.

Additional schools might have to switch to remote learning in the future, if too many people are out.

“It is ever changing due to attendance day-to-day,” Miller-Drye said.

To help cut down on quarantines and keep students and staff in school, beginning next week the district will enroll in Duke University’s voluntary test-to-stay program, where people exposed to the virus can remain in school, provided they test negative multiple times during the first week of exposure and wear a mask for 10 days. The school board approved of the decision during its meeting last week.

SCS would be part of the second iteration of the program for school districts with voluntary masking. The first took place over six weeks and involved 367 participants from five school districts and one charter school with universal mask mandates.

According to data from Duke’s ABC Science Collaborative, the initial study found testing children exposed to COVID-19 rather than sending them into quarantine right away saved more than 1,600 school days from being missed and resulted in a transmission rate of about 2 percent.

Board chairwoman Glenda Gibson said the public will have to afford the school system some “grace” during the beginning of the new program, which will take some time to get up and running.

“I want it to go smoothly and I hope it goes smoothly, but you’re going to have really high numbers,” she said.