Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
The Macon County School Board met for its regular monthly meeting on Monday, March 22. On the agenda was the recent actions taken by legislators and the governor to get kids back in school. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 220 into law on March 11. Senate Bill 220 requires local boards of education to provide in-person learning for grade K-5 in Plan “A”, and for grades 6-12 in either Plan “B” or Plan “A”, while meeting all health and safety requirements in the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit (K-12). The updated Toolkit no longer requires schools to do daily temperature checks and symptom screenings.
While the Macon County School system is currently meeting the requirements that are outlined in Senate Bill 220, the school system had the choice of allowing all students to return to school. Schools are still required to offer families the option of attending school virtually.
On a motion made by Tommy Cabe and seconded by Carol Arnold, the Macon County Board of Education approved by a 5-0 vote to have Mountain View Intermediate, Macon Middle School, and Franklin High School begin operating under Plan “A” when students return from spring break on Monday, April 5. By waiting until April 5, families and teachers will be given adequate time to prepare for the schedule change and all staff who have chosen to be vaccinated will have been provided the two weeks required to develop immunity to COVID-19.
Mountain View Intermediate School, Macon Middle School, and Union Academy will continue to require that each Friday be a virtual day in order to adequately interact with their virtual students. Franklin High School and Macon Early College will operate under Plan “A” five days per week. Cartoogechaye Elementary, East Franklin Elementary, Iotla Valley Elementary, South Macon Elementary, Nantahala School and Highlands School will not alter their current schedule of operations. While more students are allowed back on campuses face coverings are still required in North Carolina schools.
Summer Edventure Camp
Summer Edventure Camp will start on June 14. In the past, Summer Adventure Camp was made available as a daycare of sorts for kids to have somewhere to go in the summer. The camp came at a cost but some parents were eligible for subsidized tuition. This year, SEC will address learning loss experienced by students throughout this unusual season. The camp will be held face to face and will run for five weeks. Principals are gathering lists of “at risk” students and also putting together staff to assist with the Camp.
The Summer Learning Program will be four days per week, Monday-Thursday.
Summer Edventure Camp will be five days per week, Monday-Friday. Instruction will begin at 7:30 and will end at 1:30. The enrichment component will continue until 4:30 each day. All grade levels (K-12) will offer learning and recovery components. The number of students that can be served will be based upon the staffing of qualified teachers that are able to commit to teaching during the summer. There is no fee for this Camp Program. Eligible students will be contacted by their home school. Dr. Baldwin, Macon County School Board Superintendent, did have some concerns regarding the Edventure Summer Camp Program.
“Will virtual students be willing to come in to school for face to face instruction? Will we be able to staff summer school”? He questioned.
He also spoke about strong community partners such as Danny Antoine’s Karate Camp and Nantahala Learning Center and not wanting to take away from their contribution. Instead he hoped to get assistance from them to help with implementation of the program.
Funding for the programs are made possible through the CARES Act passed by Congress and signed by the president in March 2020.
Strong Community Partners Willing to Lend a Hand
Danny Antoine, owner of Danny Antoine’s Marshal Arts & Fitness Academy, spoke at the board meeting.
“I wanted to take a moment to express to the board that my wife and I, our team at the karate academy, are making ourselves available to help at whatever capacity Macon County Schools would allow us to keep being a part. We have been serving this community for a little over 20 years now and we value the families here in Macon county, today more than ever before,” said Antoine. “My second point is to simply share this thought, when I started my classes back last summer we were overwhelmed with the response from the children. I spend much of my time listening to our children’s hearts in this community, and it is vital to me that they understand, at the very least, with us their precious voices matter. These children have been suffering emotionally, and academically, and they are not sure how to process through it all. They don’t have the capacity to formulate through all of this, the pandemic and our response to it, in the same manner as the adults that surround them. So my point in saying this is, the response and the results of the response to the pandemic cannot end up being worst than the pandemic itself. And that is part of what we are currently facing. Their hearts are broken because they miss their friends and their teachers, as they often relay to us during our family time discussions at the academy. So we continue to serve the families of Macon County and continue to try to be one of the many solutions to all of this in the children’s lives. Thanks for giving a listening ear to this, blessings to all,” he concluded.
Public school funding issues
John DeVille, Franklin High School Social Studies Teacher, expressed concern over the state legislature introducing school choice bills that would “divert public funds to privatization schemes.” HB 32 would expand eligibility for North Carolina’s school voucher programs.
HB32 would make five changes to the Opportunity Scholarship program: 1. No prior public school enrollment requirement for entering second graders. 2. Increase value of the voucher. 3. Loosening of prior public school enrollment requirement in grades 3-12. 4. Diversion of funds to marketing efforts. 5. Increase of administration funding.
“Private schools would have no accountability, they would not be required to administer state tests. Anyone could open a school and public school dollars would be taken away from our school budget,” explained DeVille. “We are a economically diverse community with a very wealthy section of Macon and a poverty stricken section. We need to increase our tax base. We have an under tapped tax base right now, Macon stands at 90-100 of 100 counties, a far cry from the top 10 counties.”
Virtual Academy Gets a Green Light
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Macon County Schools provided some in-person instruction to students who desired to attend school on site. All students participated in some virtual instruction but teachers were limited to the amount of direct instruction they were able to provide in order to accommodate for multiple students in a home, students with limited internet service, and so they could provide direct instruction to their in-person students.
The Macon Virtual Academy, starting Fall 2021, will look very different. The program will be open for K-8th grade students and their families who have successfully adapted to learning from home and would like to continue even when schools fully open.
Admission is by application only with specific requirements and expectations including references from a previous teach or parent/guardian. Full day instruction will be provided by specially trained virtual learning teachers. Students will be engaged in direct instruction and specific daily assignments and expectations throughout the day. Students will participate inn-person for various activities such as field trips, seminars, clubs or sports. Internet access is required. Daily attendance will be taken per class meeting and will be required for continued participation in the program. Students will also be required to remain for the full semester before requisitions a transfer to in-person school.
Limited space is available and applications are now open and will be accepted through April 23 for enrollment in Fall 2021. Applicants will be notified of acceptance by May 24.