Orange County Schools voted at its January 11 meeting to continue with online learning for most students, delaying the return for in-person classes.

With a 4-3 vote, the school district elected to keep grades 2 through 12 operating online for at least nine more weeks. Kindergarten and first grade students will be brought back “contingent upon air purifiers, meals outside of classrooms, and a regular testing program.” Students in small learning groups, pre-K and exceptional children’s classes that previously returned to in-person learning in December will continue to do so.

Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart said it could take a few weeks to start the testing program that would allow grades 2 through 12 to return in-person.

Stewart also shared that the current percent positive rate in Orange County is at seven percent – a significant increase from the five percent threshold that the county previously set to bring students back.

As of Wednesday, Orange County is reporting 5,839 cumulative coronavirus cases. The county saw its largest increase in daily cases on January 8 with 99 new cases reported.

Superintendent Monique Felder pushed to bring back K-2, sixth grade and ninth grade students back, acknowledging that those are the “transition” grades for each school. Felder said the district has worked with experts who did not see any spread of COVID-19 in the district’s in-person learning labs or exceptional children’s and pre-K classes.

“We have data that supports that too many of our children are not doing well academically, social-emotionally,” Felder said. “We heard tonight again that we’re in this for the long haul.”

North Carolina is currently in Group 1 of Phase 1B of COVID-19 vaccinations. Frontline essential workers 50 years or older (such as teachers, child care workers and support staff members) are eligible to receive the vaccination in Group 2 of Phase 1B.

In December, a group of teachers within Orange County Schools protested the district’s decision to return to in-person learning. The group remained teaching remotely from their homes despite the district’s request that educators return to school buildings to continue remote learning while preparing for the upcoming semester.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking to not see our students in-person and we all want to go back to in-person, but we want to do so really safely and we want to do it for the right reasons,” Christina Clark, the president of the Orange County Association of Educators, told Chapelboro in December.

In December, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools decided to delay its adoption of Plan B hybrid learning due to rising COVID-19 trends. The district will meet on January 21 to discuss a potential transition to the Plan B start in March. does not charge subscription fees. You can support local journalism and our mission to serve the community. Contribute today – every single dollar matters.