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KCS sees smooth transition back to classes, unlikely to transition to all in-person for K-5

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

KANNAPOLIS — Just more than a month in, Kannapolis City Schools has had a mostly smooth transition back into the classroom.

Superintendent Chip Buckwell credits students following guidelines and wearing masks for much of the district’s success bringing them back into schools on Aug. 17. Buckwell said he does not think remote instruction is a replacement for face-to-face learning, though it is better than emergency virtual learning put in place in the spring.

The district has about 5,600 students and about 3,100 of them are going to school in-person.

KCS is sandwiched between Rowan-Salisbury and Cabarrus County schools, with about 18,000 and 32,000 students, respectively. And KCS Transportation Director Beryl Torrence said the district’s smaller size has been an advantage for logistics. 

Splitting students into two cohorts with social distancing requirements along with utilizing teacher assistants who can also serve as bus drivers has allowed it to make transportation work, Torrence said. The district has only two ZIP codes, so it was able to simply split routes according to the codes.

Rowan-Salisbury opted for a blended model like KCS while Cabarrus went all-virtual. KCS sends students to school in two cohorts with a cleaning day on Friday. KCS has not requested a yearlong, all-virtual commitment from students who want that option like Rowan-Salisbury. High schoolers in KCS, however, are locked in for the first semester. Elementary school students are locked in for nine weeks. 

The district has faced the same complication as the rest of the state after Gov. Roy Cooper announced districts will be allowed to bring elementary school students back in classrooms five days a week on Friday. Buckwell said the surprise announcement came just before the district planned to send out a survey about returning some elementary students to in-person instruction, but KCS pulled the survey amid the announcement.

Buckwell said he does not think the district could logistically manage to bring back all elementary students by Oct. 5, a date proposed by the governor. He said the announcement was confounding because the district would not be able to make the change happen that quickly or accommodate parents who wanted to stick with the blended model if it returns to all in-person instruction

“We may make a recommendation before Oct. 5, but it will not be to restart on Oct. 5,” Buckwell said.

Torrance said, with current guidance limiting students to one per seat, there are transportation challenges to bring all elementary students back.

Angelo DelliSanti, principal at A.L. Brown High, said about half of the school’s 1,600 students are attending virtually.

DelliSanti said he is not sure if that rate falls into a normal range because the situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented, but he is just happy to have students back in the building. Things do feel a bit strange, he said, when only about 400 students are in the building on any given day when the facility can handle about 2,000.

DelliSanti said he was concerned at first about students checking in correctly and following guidelines, but beside a couple of isolated incidents, there have not been major issues

COVID-19 cases have stayed low, mirroring most districts in the state. As of Monday the district has no clusters, defined by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as five or more cases which can be linked together.

The district has been posting weekly updates on its COVID-19 status for the previous week each Monday.

Last week there were three new cases reported and a total positive rate of less than a .08% against a total of about 3,900 combined staff and students. There were also six people in quarantine as recommended by Cabarrus Health Alliance.

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