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Superintendent Mubenga discusses plan as Senate Bill 37 moves forward

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Following advanced legislation that calls for the return of students to in-person learning, the Durham Public Schools Superintendent and Board of Education discussed the impact of the pandemic on the district and how they hope to move forward during Thursday night’s Board work session.

“DPS wants to maintain the highest level of safety, but at the same time many of our students and families are suffering as a result of the pandemic,” said Dr. Pascal Mubenga, DPS Superintendent. “Durham likes to lead the way but it is very likely the General Assembly will take our choice away. We know our community really well. We know our educators. We know our families.  But the General Assembly makes laws that we must follow.”

Since March 2020, the district has remained remote in an effort to protect students and staff during the pandemic. In January, the DPS Board of Education voted for the district to remain remote through the rest of the school year with hopes of returning to in-person learning during the 2021-22 school year.

Senate Bill 37 would require DPS and all other state school districts to provide daily in-person instruction (Plan A) to all students with an Individualized Education Program or Section 504 plan, and either daily in-person instruction (Plan A) or moderate social distancing (Plan B) for all other students in grades kindergarten through 12. School boards would have the authority to close individual schools or classrooms due to COVID-19 exposures on a day-to-day basis.

Because Senate Bill 37 requires in-person learning to begin within 15 days of its passage, DPS is finalizing a plan for returning to school if the bill becomes law.  This plan includes surveying our families to determine their preferences for all students in grades PreK-12.  All families must complete it regardless of if they have completed a form previously.

The survey will be available to families beginning Monday, February 15, and will close on Wednesday, February 24. The data from this survey will allow DPS to continue to plan for the possible return of students to the classroom.

“I am asking our families to respond to this survey as quickly as possible as we continue to work on this plan,” said Mubenga. “Also, I am going to urge our families that the more who choose remote instruction, the better we can support in-person learning and allow for social distancing.”

The district has developed strong plans for PPE, social distancing, screenings, and support for students and staff that will be put in place.

“We have been preparing to bring our students in person,” added Mubenga. “We are organized; I know our transportation and other departments are working really hard. As soon as we get the survey data back, we will be ready to bring our students in person if we get to that point.”

Different versions of Senate Bill 37 have passed the state House and Senate. If the versions are reconciled, it would then go to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk; he would have 10 days to sign it, veto it, or allow it to pass without his signature.

Additionally, the DPS Board of Education passed the Shots for a Safe Return resolution during Thursday night’s work session.

This resolution acknowledges that Governor Cooper has accelerated vaccinations for school staff in advance of the reopening of schools. The BOE stands ready to coordinate with our local health department, NC Public Health officials, Duke Hospital System, and other community partners to facilitate making the vaccine available to each of our school workers with all due haste so that we can reopen our public education system with the greatest assuredness of safety for students, staff and our greater community.