GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Top Guilford County Schools officials tell FOX8 they need more money to get kids back to school safely.
“We don’t have adequate funding to meet the requirements of what the NC DHHS has sent out as guidance,” explained Whitney Oakley, the chief academic officer for the district.
Oakley said it’s going to cost an estimated $25 million for the school district to properly clean schools, socially distance and have all of the materials needed to keep students and staff safe and healthy.
Officials are trying to plan everything right now, but they say the problem is that those plans can change.
“The toughest thing is just not knowing,” added Angie Henry, the chief operating officer for Guilford County Schools.
“We had funding shortfalls before trying to reopen schools in a pandemic. I think those have only increased,” Oakley said.
School leaders are also trying to be flexible.
“We’re making several different plans at one time. We’re going to do the best we can with the information we have,” she added.
Administrators are also trying to find the space in their existing facilities to keep students and staff socially distanced.
“We have had people go out and walk every classroom in our school buildings to measure,” Henry said.
She explained that just because the architectural layout for a classroom may indicate there’s 700 square feet in a classroom, there could be only 500 square feet of usable space for teachers and administrators to work with.
That impacts how many kids are allotted per classroom.
There are many other questions that are plaguing the 160 person task force in charge of making different plans for the school district during the pandemic.
“How are we going to identify a single point of entry? How can we serve the greatest number of students for the most amount of time every day while making sure that our most vulnerable students are part of the planning,” Oakley explained.
School leaders are also looking at how to make sure students and staff wear face coverings and what transportation for students would look like.
“Guidance has said that there could be one student per seat if we open under a plan B…on a 72 passenger bus…that could be 24 students,” Henry said.
They had already been looking at working with Guilford County public transportation officials since before the COVID-19 pandemic due to bus driver shortages.
As district officials wait for Governor Cooper to mak a decision on if and how schools will reopen, there’s a real fear that Guilford County students may be falling behind on their education.
“Learning loss started as soon as school closed,” Oakley said. “We know we’re going to have to see where our students are and make sure their learning pathways meet their needs. That’s what we’re working on right now.”
Cooper is expected to announce his recommendations for reopening schools next week but plans could still change before students return in the fall.
That’s why Guilford County Schools officials say there are different layers to each of their plans, and they’re still working through the details.