Macon County will reopen Macon Middle School, Mountain View Intermediate, and Union Academy on Monday. The schools were closed and school went remote last month due to staffing concerns after students and/or teachers tested positive for COVID19.
Franklin High School has been closed since last month, however their schedule was one day per week for each grade level. Based on requests from FHS staff, the original plan was for FHS to work out the details the first week in school to see if two days a week would be feasible, however, due to a COVID19 cluster involving school administrators, the school only went in-person for one week.
FHS administrators requested additional time to work out the details, however Board member Stephanie McCall, who called into the meeting, said she disagrees with the Franklin High School Staff’s requests and wants students to attend in-person instruction two days a week. McCall said she doesn’t understand why more time is needed.
“Why aren’t they working around the clock to figure it out,” she asked.
Board Chairman Jim Breedlove and other members of the board said they were not going to ignore the school staff’s request and did not support McCall’s motion. The board voted to grant school administrator’s request to extend the trial period for another two weeks with the hope of moving to two days a week at the end of the two weeks with McCall voting against it. FHS will continue with each grade level going one day on their assigned day for the next two weeks with the goal of moving toward students attending two days a week once appropriate plans can be determined.
According to Macon County Public Health Director Kathy McGaha, she has no reservations for the schools to reopen and for teachers and students to return to the classroom.
The first Macon County Schools staff member tested positive for COVID19 the weekend before school opened on August 17. Through contact tracing and testing, 60 additional staff members and around 80 students have had to quarantine based on state guidelines regarding exposure.
“I want to make it clear that the Pandemic has created these hardships,” said Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “Not Macon County School Board, not the teachers, not the parents, but the pandemic has caused these hardships.”
Dr. Baldwin explained that under state requirements, it was never an option for Macon County to allow all students to attend school 5 days a week.
“Based on social distancing guidelines and having to remain 6 feet apart, we just couldn’t do that and have all students in all schools every day,” said Dr. Baldwin. “We were able to do that for Union, Nantahala, and Highlands, but we couldn’t at all schools.”
McCall said that she has been made aware that students are not being educated in the district – they are not getting an education, and that remote learning is not working within Macon County.
Dr. Baldwin noted that teachers across the state are overwhelmed and are working overtime to provide the required instruction for students, especially because the Department of Instruction has made it clear that grades will count this school year.
McCall also said that she didn’t understand why teachers and students had to be quarantined if they were washing their hands and wearing a mask. McGaha attempted to explain that washing their hands and wearing a mask reduces the risks of transmission, but it doesn’t eliminate it, however McCall said she still didn’t understand.
Wearing a mask and washing your hands and social distancing is similar to wearing a seatbelt in the car. Wearing a seatbelt reduces the risk of injury in the event of a car accident, however, it does not eliminate the possibility of injury – the same applies to measures to avoid contracting COVID19.
McCall said that she knows for a fact some students and teachers were not following the quarantine orders issued by the health department – implying because of that and other factors, quarantining didn’t serve a purpose.
Dr. Baldwin noted that because of quarantine efforts at some elementary schools and Highlands School, positive cases were not spread throughout the school and those schools did not have to suspend in-person instruction.
McGaha said that 70 percent of students in the state are 100% virtual and only 30% — which includes Macon County – are attempting in-person instruction at all. McGaha said that the state is monitoring districts like Macon who are remote and will evaluate those schools to see what is the best step moving forward.
McGaha also stated that it is likely that additional quarantines will be needed in the future – and the goal is to minimize exposure as much as possible to avoid future closures.