Durham, N.C. — The Durham County school board voted unanimously on Thursday to keep students learning online only through the end of the spring semester.
While the vote was not close, the decision was a difficult one for teachers and parents.
Teacher Turquoise Parker is just one person balancing emotion with science.
“I would love nothing more than to be back in my classroom,” she said. But, right now, she doesn’t believe that would be safe.
“I just can’t do that to my babies, to my colleagues, to our community,” she said.
In November, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education voted to move forward with allowing families to choose part-time, in-person learning for elementary students, to begin later this month.
At the time, they said that would only be an option if the county’s coronavirus test positivity rate was below 4 percent.
With that rate at 7 percent in Durham County and more than 17 percent statewide, the board eliminated that option and opted to continue with remote learning.
Meka Flemings, whose fifth-grader has been attending a learning center, will be disappointed.
“I think, if they use the learning centers as the example of how to keep everything clean and keep the kids social distanced, that they should be able to move forward and try it,” she said.
Flemings said that, while she understands teachers’ worries, she’s been back at work in a public setting.
“What I do know is that the rest of us have had to go back to work. And we have to live with that uncertainty and fear every day. And sometimes that just comes with what you’ve chosen to do in your life,” she said.
School board member Alexandra Valladares says she’s been hearing from people on both sides of the debate, via phone and email.
“We’re getting parents who are looking at what the rates are looking like, what the positivity rates are, who are urging us to make the vote for the rest of the year. They don’t see a way that these rates are going to get better,” she said.
Other families, like Flemings’, are concerned about the socialization students miss by learning online.
“I’m reading every single email and replying to as many as possible,” Valladares said.
“Any decision that we make, it’s health and it’s safety first. People can expect that I will listen.”
School board member Jovonia Lewis said she would consider all students and families before her vote.
“When we’re looking at equity, there are families that have children with special needs in a self-contained classroom, there are English-language learners that have additional needs, and in-person learning would be vital for them,” she said.