Students in Macon County are expected to begin the Spring semester on January 5 after a two-week holiday break. With COVID19 cases continuing to rise across the state, the Macon County Board of Education held a special called meeting Wednesday morning to evaluate the number of positive COVID-19 cases throughout the school system.
Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin reported that there are currently 126 student quarantines along with 26 student active positive cases. There are 15 staff quarantines and seven staff active positive cases. According to School Nurse Julie Rogers, numbers are subject to change as the backlog of information gets reported within the Macon County Public Health Department.
In addition, Macon County Public Health Director Kathy McGaha reported that Macon County is currently in the orange category but could move to the red category based on the number of active positive cases in the county. According to McGaha, Macon County meets all the criteria to be considered a “red” county with the exception of hospitalization numbers.
After much discussion, the Macon County Board of Education took no action at this point and will move forward with the plan for students to return to face-to-face learning as planned on Tuesday, January 5, 2021, with the exception of Highlands School which received prior approval to being the semester with remote learning.
In the event that the number of active positive cases continues to increase, an emergency meeting of the Macon County Board of Education may be scheduled. The Macon County Department of Public Health has not conducted COVID19 testing for the community since December 18, when they took a break for the Christmas holiday. Even with Macon County Public Health not conducting testing, private providers reported nearly a 100 case increase in the number of positive cases from December 23 to December 29.
The Macon County Public Health has resumed testing as of Wednesday and is working to address current backlogs due to the holiday.
The health department also received the first shipment of vaccines on Tuesday and will begin by vaccinating health department staff.
In addition to Highlands School spending the first week of the Spring semester with virtual learning, there will also be changes to the schedule at Franklin High School. Students will no longer follow a schedule to attend based on their grade level. Moving forward, students will attend based on the first letter of their last name. Students with last names beginning with A through L will attend on Mondays and Wednesdays each week. Students with last names beginning with M through Z will attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. These groups will alternate attending on Fridays, beginning with the A through L group in the first week.
FHS students who failed to earn required credits in the fall semester will be rescheduled. An updated copy of student schedules will be available from advisors on the first day they attend in January.
For Macon Early College students who are enrolled at Southwestern Community College, college locations will reopen on Tuesday, Jan. 5. Spring classes start Jan. 11.
“Our students have always been our top priority at Southwestern, and we have an obligation to keep them – and all of our employees – safe,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “Right now, that means making every effort to keep COVID-19 off our campus. By asking all of our employees to get tested before returning to campus from the holiday break, we can get the spring semester off to a safe and strong start.”
From the moment the pandemic began, SCC has followed the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control, N.C. Department of Health & Human Services, and the Jackson County Health Department.
The vast majority of spring classes will be offered entirely online, and all classes will have some online component. The few classes that meet in person require students to follow strict college protocols including social distancing, wearing face coverings, and washing hands frequently.
For all other Macon County Schools, there will be no changes for the Spring semester. The same individual school schedules will be followed and mandatory face masks and social distancing will remain in place.
States across North Carolina are facing similar considerations with many districts such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Cherokee Central schools electing to begin the semester with virtual learning. In Cabarrus County, not only will students being the semester with virtual learning, but fall and winter sports have also been suspended. At this point, both Jackson and Swain Counties intend to begin the Spring semester the same as in the fall, with a mix of face to face and virtual learning.
In Cumberland County, the district issued a two-week quarantine process for students at the beginning of January based on a comprehensive view of numerous factors that include the rise of community spread of COVID19. The district will return for in-person learning on Jan. 19, pending positive COVID19 metrics for the county.
Districts such as Thomasville City Schools made the decision for students to begin the semester fully remote, with the intent of resuming the hybrid Plan B schedule after the Martin Luther King Holiday.
Across the state, about half of school districts will begin the new year with remote learning with plans to return to the classroom by the end of January. To view a district by district list of NC schools, visit here.
If you feel you need an appointment for COVID-19 testing, please contact the Macon County Public Health Department Call Center at 828-349-2517.