Health director says no need for masks at school

Macon County School Board photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin addressed the board about face coverings going into the 2021-2022 school year. He said that he had been in contact with Macon County Public Health director Kathy McGaha on Wednesday and based on the low transmission rate in Macon County, McGaha does not see the need for masks to be worn by staff or students this fall. 

“This would be if school was starting tomorrow, but it is not,” said Baldwin. “School starts on Aug. 23, 2021, and depending on the transmission rate at that time, it could lead to a temporary need for face coverings.” 

The central office sent out a public statement on Thursday, “The Macon County School system will continue to monitor this situation in conjunction with the Macon County Health Department in order to begin the new school year in a manner that is in the best interest of our students.  As of now students will be returning to school without needing to wear a mask.”

However, while it is up to local districts to determine individual mask policies for inside school buildings, due to an existing order from the Centers for Disease Control, masks will still be required on school buses. 

“The CDC guidelines are pretty clear,” said Dr. Baldwin. “They are requiring face coverings on public transportation, which includes school buses.”

The North Carolina Coronavirus Task Force is set to      address the public during a press briefing on Thursday, and based on the updated CDC mask guidelines recommending mask usage indoors regardless of vaccination status, the state may reverse its decision regarding masks being optional this school year.

Washington trips on for 2021

After having their Washington DC trip cancelled in 2020 and 2021, due to the pandemic, Mountain View Intermediate (MVI) students will once again be able to visit our nation’s capital. Two separate trips will take place for MVI students, one which will send 300 students to DC on April 27, 2022, and another trip which is scheduled for Oct. 12, 2022, also hosting 300 students.  During a meeting with the Macon County School Board on Thursday, July 22, the board unanimously approved these trips. 

Nantahala Library debate continuing

The School Board was briefed on the decaying building that houses the Fontana Regional Library in Nantahala. Karen Wallace, Fontana Regional Library Director, explained that after 20 years the current building is in disrepair and has outlived its life. She stated  “repairs are no longer an option.”  She suggested that converting the Industrial Arts Building at the Nantahala School campus would be the preferred option.  The library offers internet and other technology which students and residents regularly use.   During a focus group held about two years ago, stakeholders agreed that it was best to keep the library at the school for ease of access to all, comparing the convenience of the Franklin branch library housed next to Macon Early College and Southwestern Community College. Students there have easy access to the library as they would if the library was at the Nantahala School.  A concern that Wallace brought attention to was the fact that the county commissioners approved the purchase of some land about four miles away from the school and had suggested building the new library there. 

“There is no internet access at that location and it would not be accessible to students during the school day,”  said Wallace. She believes that housing the library at Nantahala School would be a good arrangement as is the case with the Franklin branch library. The board made no decision on the next course of action. 

Summer School program a success

Dr. Baldwin also spoke about the success of the summer school program. He explained that there was some recovery, students were well behaved and all in all it was a very positive experience.  The board also addressed the option of giving summer school teachers a bonus of up to $1,200 for participation in the summer school program. Bonuses would be pro-rated for those not serving the full summer school schedule.  The board also discussed falling in line with other counties who offer signing bonuses for newly hired teachers. Macon County Schools is in need of eventually filling the positions of 41 teachers, due to teachers retiring or resigning.  Macon County School system currently lists 17 job openings with ongoing interviews including custodians, school counselor, music teacher, science and math teachers and a psychologist.

The next School Board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 16, at the Macon County Schools Administrative Office, beginning at 6 p.m.