School board still examining plans for possible schools reopening in August

Macon County School Board photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

Governor Roy Cooper has once again delayed an announcement on what plan will be used to allow students to return back to school in August. The announcement was expected at a July 1 press conference.  Scenarios, as of now include an A, B, or C, schedule option.  Macon County School Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin said at the School Board meeting on Monday night that he had received much information in the last week regarding plan “B.”  

This phase would require students to be in school at 50% capacity. Students who ride the bus would be seated one to each seat and would require both drivers and students to wear face coverings while on the bus. Middle and high school students and their teachers would be required to wear face coverings while in class. The board is also looking at face shields for the teachers, perhaps even within the six foot distance, so students would be able to see their teacher’s face. Also included in plan “B” is if schools can only operate at 50% capacity, this means that half the students would be in school on Monday and the other half would be in school on Tuesday. On the days the students are not in school, they will be required to complete assignments through remote learning.  Dr. Baldwin said that they have enough devices to be able to give out to students who need one. Students who have no internet at home will be able to park by a school and access the school’s internet system and download the needed assignments so they could work on them at home without needing internet access. The completed assignments could be uploaded the following day and then they could download the next assignment.  For students who would not have the ability to have someone drive them to a school site, they could download and upload assignment the day they are scheduled to be in school. 

School board member Fred Goldsmith expressed concern regarding opening in plan “B.”

“How is a student whose parents are not at home, because they need to work, going to get the guidance and help they need with their assignments, and what if the parents need to place their child in day care, how is that going to work?” he asked.  “It would be a burden on the parents and the student.”  

Dr. Baldwin emphasized the fact that whatever they do as far as remote learning is concerned, they can improve on what they offer. 

“It has to be better then what it was in the spring,” said Baldwin.  “That is something that we are committed to be doing, is improving the education that we are providing through remote learning.” 

 A change in the way students receive grades will not be as it was in the spring.  Students were told that their grades would be the higher of what they earned in March or if they improved through remote assignments.

 “Many students ‘checked out’ academically due to that. This will not be the expectation for next year with improvements of the number of devices we have and an expectation that we improve the connectivity of Macon County, to the extent that the school system can. There will be enough ipads for every student in grades 5-12 and also for anyone in K-4 school that doesn’t have a device.” 

He also explained that the school system has purchased Wi-Fi “jet packs” that they could use to provide Wi-Fi hotspots to a number of students that are close enough to a church, fire department, or a community building.  If parents cannot get to a school, they can pull into any of these places and access Wi-Fi.  Students will be able to go into the community building and take part in a live-stream lesson that the teacher is teaching that day.

Dr. Baldwin said that they are doing what they can to simplify he process. He explained that on March 13 they had no plan for remote instruction. 

“We’ve learned from then, based on what both parents and teachers have told us. For instance there will be only two platforms for providing instruction, that will be through Google Classroom or through campus learning. We are providing professional development for teachers, over the next six weeks. We are streamlining the process,” said Baldwin.

The school board sent out a survey to parents and teachers a few weeks ago to see how they felt regarding the issues for reopening and how remote learning worked for them. Teachers who responded that in terms of contacting their students, Google Classroom, email and phone calls were the best. Some teachers used social network platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and You Tube channel to contact students.  Approximately 32 teachers made home visits to students to take and pick up homework packets. Parents had some trouble uploading work so many of them took pictures and sent it in that way. Motivation was a problem due to grading policies. Parents were concerned with child care issues on days when remote learning takes place. Teachers, students and parents participated in discussions that took place on line. 

As far as  whether or not parents want their students to return to school in the fall, out of a total response of 1,653 parents 86% said “yes,” and 13% said, “no.” Concerning transportation, 77.8% of parents said they would drive their child to school in the morning, which is 1,126 students compared to 23 who would ride the bus, making transportation less of an issue. To get home in the afternoon, 845 respondents said they would pick up their child while 600 said they would ride the bus. There were 211 parents who responded that they do not plan on sending their child back to school in the fall, but would be interested in virtual learning as an option if offered. Dr. Baldwin explained that teachers would not be involved in that scenario, that parents would have to come up with a plan for that. Teachers would only have to offer remote learning full time if the state went from plan “B” to plan “C.” Dr. Baldwin expressed concern that now they would have four plans they would have to come up with.