The Macon County Board of Education voted to send students in Kindergarten through fifth grade back to school for in-person instruction during Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting. The vote comes after Governor Roy Cooper announced last week that because data shows students in K-5 grades are less likely to transmit COVID19, those grades could return to school under the state’s Plan A.
Beginning Monday, October 5th, students at South Macon Elementary School, East Franklin Elementary School, Cartoogechaye Elementary School, and Iotla Valley Elementary School as well as Mountain View Intermediate 5th grade will return to school under Plan A. Plan A will allow students at these schools who were previously part of the A/B hybrid Plan B to now attend school Monday through Thursday. Fridays will remain a remote learning day for all students in Macon County.
Franklin High School, Macon Middle School, Union Academy, Macon Early College, and Mountain View Intermediate School 6th grade will remain in Plan B. Highlands School and Nantahala School will remain in their current plans, and students who are currently on Plan C – which is 100% virtual, will remain in virtual learning.
While Friday will be virtual for all students, it is still a school day with attendance expected to be taken based on assignments being completed by students.
Macon County Board of Education Chairman Jim Breedlove stated that he, along with the rest of the board would like to see students in class five days a week, however, he understands that with 928 students in Macon County currently participating in Plan C 100% virtual learning, Fridays are needed to allow those teachers the time and resources to address their virtual students.
Throughout the entire school system, there are only five teachers dedicated solely to virtual students, with additional staff being hired for virtual students, according to Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. The majority of virtual students in Macon County are part of a larger classroom that does in-person instruction with the teacher providing special instruction for the virtual students.
The virtual breakdown as of September 10 is:
East Franklin- 76
Iotla Valley- 101
South Macon- 91
Mountain View Intermediate- 174
Macon Middle School- 150
Franklin High School- 128
Union Academy- 26
Macon Early College- 6
Board of Education member Fred Goldsmith noted that at some point he believes that the district will no longer be able to offer virtual learning as an option for Macon County students, as it is proven to be difficult to implement and student grades are suffering. However, Chairman Breedlove explained that Macon County is required by the state to provide a virtual learning option. Virtual learning will remain an option for Macon County families.
Students in Macon County who have participated in virtual learning for the first semester or first grading period will be permitted to return for in-person instruction beginning October 19. Dr. Baldwin noted that while surveys to see how many parents plan to send transfer their students from virtual to in-person is still ongoing, as it stands there is a surprising number of students intending to transition to in-person instruction later this month.
“The board’s vote tonight does not change the timelines established earlier with regard to transferring from virtual instruction to face-to-face instruction,” said Dr. Baldwin. “However, parents are encouraged to contact their child’s principal if unexpected circumstances arise that require their child to return to face-to-face instruction immediately.”
Macon County Board of Education Attorney John Henning Jr. noted that while the Governor’s decision to allow Plan A in schools permits students to return at full capacity and loosens social distancing guidelines, it does not specify the number of days or anything else. Henning said that the most common trend he has seen across the state is for schools to begin transitioning to Plan A, however very few have elected to return 5 days a week in person.
“I think what you will that districts are working toward Plan A, but most are attending fewer days a week as Macon County has decided with a four day week,” said Henning.
Dr. Baldwin noted that as students return to school under Plan A – and as some families decide to have their students transition from virtual learning to in-person on October 19, face coverings are available at all schools in Macon County, as they are still required under Plan A.
“We have plenty of face coverings. Students should have received them when school began,” said Dr. Baldwin. “Each school received a shipment of masks prior to the first day of school. The schools were provided enough cloth face coverings so that each child would have 5. We still have plenty in the warehouse. I received a request for smaller masks from a principal this morning. Her request stated that the face coverings provided by the school system were too large for her smaller students. We are in the process of locating smaller masks. Many students are wearing their own masks and may not have taken the face coverings provided by the school system. If someone has not received a face covering or needs one, please have them reach out to their child’s principal, Todd Gibbs, or me. We will provide them with a face covering.”