Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer
The school year, so far, has not gone as planned. Although the plans were never certain for any one group, there was, in fact, a plan that was implemented to the best of what was deemed reasonable for all involved. This plan included allowing students to attend in-person classes two days per week, with three days being virtual, or to attend virtual classes at home five days per week. Parents and students chose which plan suited their needs better.
On day one of Macon schools re-opening, 60 staff members and 80 students were placed into quarantine due to COVID exposure. That caused a shortage of teachers and the school board was forced to suspend in-person instruction after only one week, at four schools. That, along with the week during Labor Day, having previously been scheduled to be a remote learning week, in order to re-evaluate the face-to-face learning, forced a three week long closure at Macon Middle School (MMS), Mountain View Intermediate (MVI), Union Academy (UA) and Franklin High School (FHS).
At a called school board meeting held on Thursday, Sept. 10, it was determined that all four schools would be able to reopen for face-to-face instruction starting on Monday, Sept. 14. It was noted that Macon Middle School would still need three substitute teachers for Monday. MMS, MVI, and UA will return to plan B with alternate A, B, schedule, while FHS would still need two more weeks where students went face-to-face only one day per week, in order to determine whether the school will be able to adhere to social distancing guidelines for some 200 students per grade. The board approved the two additional weeks noting that by Sept. 28 or earlier, students would be required to attend FHS two days per week.
Dr. Chris Baldwin, Macon County School Board Superintendent, stated, “Seventy percent of students in North Carolina chose plan “C”. Plan “B” is a tremendous challenge but we choose it because it is in the best interest of our students. There is a tremendous amount of pressure implementing plan “B” but our teachers still choose face-to-face instruction.”
Kathy McGaha, director of Macon County Public Health (MCPH), explained how contact tracing can affect a school’s ability to remain open.
“As we contact trace positive cases, we contact anyone we feel is at risk of exposure, we interview that individual and based on symptoms and who they were in contact with, did they go to school that day, if there was a positive person in the classroom, they would have to quarantine for 14 days whether their test is negative or positive. They would have up to 14 days to display symptoms. So a negative test could still result in a positive within the 14 days. The goal of contact tracing is to try to diminish the spread of the disease. We hope parents understand that is what our job is,” said McGaha.
The need for the quarantine of exposed individuals is the reason for the shortage of staff at the four schools that were closed.
Just after the school board voted to reopen four schools in Franklin, they were notified that a positive case of COVID-19 had been confirmed at Nantahala School. This individual is currently under quarantine. Contact tracing is underway through MCPH. Any student or staff member identified through the contact tracing will be notified. At this time, Nantahala School will be suspending face-to-face instruction through Friday Sept. 18. Macon County Schools will continue to work closely with MCPH as they monitor the situation.