The Guilford County Board of Education on Tuesday, July 28 voted to begin the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year virtually on August 17.

The vote was 6 to 3 with school board members Pat Tillman, Linda Welborn and Anita Sharpe voting against the motion.

Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras had earlier recommended that the first five weeks of the school year be virtual, but altered her recommendation to the first nine weeks with some form of classroom instruction beginning on Oct. 20. There are currently four different options on how that classroom instruction would work.

School board members had a lot of questions about exactly how the virtual instruction process would work and some of the answers from staff amounted to, “We’ll have to wait and see,” because there are so many variables.

One of the issues school board members and staff discussed was that an estimated 20 percent of the students don’t have devices (tablets, laptops or computers) available and 17 percent don’t have a broadband connection sufficient for the job of remote learning.

School staff said that parents had to tell them what their needs were and they hoped to be getting devices out to students beginning the first week in August. It was unclear if GCS has enough devices for all the students, since at this point nobody is certain how many are needed.

From August 17 through Sept. 4, the proposed “Remote Learning Calendar” lists the activities for students as “Pre-recorded content and introduction to remote learning activities

“Health and safety protocol training for teachers and staff

“Student Orientation Appointments”

It was explained that because teachers will be meeting with students for orientation, they would not be available for regular virtual instruction.

Sept. 8, according to the calendar, will be the first day of what might be called regular virtual instruction. So beginning the day after Labor Day, the students, according to the calendar, will have “Live instruction, small group sessions, and individual check-ins.”

What the school board is facing on Oct. 20, if the students go back to actual classrooms, is a need for a lot more space to provide for social distancing.

According to the current social distancing requirements, GCS estimates that a school with a projected enrollment of 1,067 would have a capacity of 820 students and would need an additional 15 classrooms to serve all the students at one time.