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Macon school board alters plans for FHS & Virtual Academy reopening

With about a week to go before students return to school, the Macon County Board of Education held a special called meeting Tuesday night to finalize reopening plans.

The plans for the majority of schools remain the same as first announced – Cohort A and Cohort B will attend school on alternating days, four days a week. This applies to all Franklin area elementary school, Macon Early College, Macon Middle School, and Mountain View Intermediate.

Union Academy and Nantahala will operate at full capacity, four days a week for in-person instruction, while Highlands School has a phased re-entry plan that will eventually see all students in the classroom for in-person instruction.

The two items discussed and plans altered Tuesday night were plans for reopening Franklin High School as well as the function of the Macon County Virtual Academy.

FHS Principal Barry Woody spoke to the Board of Education about staff concerns being able to operate school two days per week, with half the student body present both days. Core classes at FHS are predominantly separated by grade level and an English 4 class might have 30 students registered – meaning the school would have to space students 6 feet apart, impossible for the space allotted at the high school.

Another issue Franklin High School is facing is an increase in enrollment; over the summer, 60 new students enrolled in the school the district hadn’t anticipated and now must accommodate. Making plans for the first day of school is a moving target, as the numbers are teetering on the line of feasibility in terms of being able to meet state requirements.

To give officials a clearer picture as to what the school year will look like, FHS requested and was granted to begin the Fall school year with each grade level attending school one day per week, Freshman on Mondays, Sophomore on Tuesday, Juniors on Wednesday, and Seniors on Friday. Special classes and accommodations will be made to schedule labs and other activities needed for CTE credits at the school. FHS will spend the first three weeks of school this way to see what actual enrollment will look like, then if possible students will begin attending two days week.

FHS is one of two high schools in the conference event attempting in-person instruction next week with the majority of schools beginning the year in Plan C.

The other issue addressed Tuesday night was the functionality of the Macon County Schools Virtual Academy. The intent of the virtual academy was to have it operate as an independent school within the district – complete with its own staff and personnel, however the number and grade level of students who enrolled did not support that model.

Now, the virtual academy will look differently based on each school site, however, the virtual academy will primarily be integrated into the normal classroom. Teachers will now be responsible for teaching the students who are in their classroom for in-person instruction, the students who are doing remote learning that day, and any virtual academy students assigned to their class.

Both remote learning and the virtual academy will vary based on school and grade level, however, overall, the school board said students are not expected to be streaming entire days online. While some teachers may elect to stream their lessons via Google Classroom for remote learning or virtual students, those lessons can also be recorded to view at a later time when best suited for the student.

Additional information and plans for virtual academy families will be distributed this week to families who are currently enrolled. The virtual academy is scheduled to begin on August 24.

The Macon County Board of Education said that the current reopen plan is a tentative plan and could change for a number of reasons at any time. District leadership will be constantly evaluating and monitoring the situation and will make adjustments as needed.

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