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Swain County Schools sending K-5 students back four days a week

The Swain County Board of Education met Monday night and voted to move forward with plans for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade to return for in-person instruction four days a week beginning February 22. 

School superintendent Mark Sale updated the board on Governor Roy Cooper’s recommendation for schools to return to in-person instruction five days — explaining that while the state’s recommendation is for students to return to schools, restrictions involving school buses and social distancing requirements for 6-12 grades remain in place. 

Swain County Public Health Director Allison Cochran updated the school board on the current COVID19 situation in the county, reporting that there are currently 23 active positive cases of COVID19 in Swain County, with 15 deaths to date. In the last month, Swain County has performed just over 3,000 COVID19 tests, with 303 of those tests being returned as positive tests, with 6 new deaths. 

Cochran said compared to a month ago, the number of active positive cases have dropped dramatically, showing signs of improvement after the New Year holiday surge. 

The Board of Education acknowledged that the COVID19 situation could change at any moment, and while returning to in-person instruction was unanimously approved by the board if the COVID19 situation worsens the board said plans could change. 

Rather than wait two weeks to see what the COVID19 situation in Swain County is and then make plans to return for in-person instruction, the board decided to begin preparing now with intention to being in-person instruction on Feb. 22. 

One significant reason for the two week time period is to allow adequate time to transition the schools back to accommodate all students. Furniture such as desks have been in storage since students have been attending at a reduced capacity. The two weeks will allow district maintenance staff time to transition back to full capacity. 

Superintendent Sale said that district staff is nearly split 50/50 with their comfort level of returning to in-person instruction. While teachers agree they want to be in-person, many are concerned for their health and safety of additional exposure risks. 

While Swain County will return for in-person instruction four days a week for K-5 grade, there is legislation moving through the General Assembly that could allow the entire district to reopen. Senate Bill 37, which was co-sponsored by Representative Kevin Corbin, states that all districts in NC must provide some form of in-person instruction for students. The bill also states that it will be up to the school to choose Plan A or Plan B for students. The bill has yet to be approved by the Senate and still needs to be sent to the House before becoming law. 

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