School Board weighs graduation options

Macon County Board of Education photo by Vickie Carpenter

Diane Peltz – Contributing Writer

When the Macon County school board met on Monday evening, two agenda items were discussed at length – graduation ceremonies for Franklin High School (FHS) Seniors; and how to re-open schools in August. 

Since the county is unsure of exactly when each phase of reopening the state will take place, the board came up with three different options for FHS Seniors.  They decided to take a poll and ask graduating seniors which option they preferred.  The poll will be sent to each senior via school email and the options will also be posted on Facebook.  This survey was sent on Tuesday, May 19, with results tallied on the following Friday. The board asks parents to have a conversation with their child regarding the best decision for their family. The results of this survey are nonbinding. The decision to hold the ceremony will include input from students in the form of this survey. Other factors will include state and local guidance dictated by the rate of the COVID-19 outbreak. Survey results and a final decision regarding Franklin High School commencement ceremonies will be announced during the continued meeting of The Macon County Board of Education which will be held on Tuesday, May 26, at 9 am in the Board Room of the Macon County Schools Administrative Offices. 

The three options include: 

 – Option 1- June 13

Each senior would have a mask, which are being donated by community members.  Each senior would be dropped off at a designated spot on campus.  Social distancing would be required throughout the event.

Each senior would be allowed one car for their parents to ride in.  These cars would be assigned a parking spot alphabetically.  The cars would file in by the Senior’s last name on a route through campus and entering the track.

As each Senior’s name is called, the family, in the car the entire time, would then pull onto the track and have a “front row” view of the Senior receiving the diploma.  Then the family would return to their parking spot and listen to the remaining commencement on the radio.

Seniors would be seated 8-10 feet apart on the football field.  This social distancing would be maintained the entire commencement.  Seniors would be seated so that no more than 10 are on each side of the field within each 10-yard line.

Once the commencement ceremony is complete, seniors would return to their families’ respective cars, maintaining proper social distance.  The cars would then have a drive-in event to showcase the seniors.

The ceremony would be recorded by BackLot Cinemas and aired at a later date for the community to view.

– Option 2 – June 6th or June 13th

Seniors would drive on to campus, with family in one car.  The student would exit the car at a designated location and pick up their diploma.  Photographs with school administrators would be allowed.

Students would reenter their car and leave campus

– Option 3 – August 1

An event on this date may be similar to Option 1 or 2 above.  An event on this date might also allow for parents to be seated in the stands depending upon Executive Orders and state and local health requirements regarding social distancing and mass gathering limitations in place in August.

Re-opening schools

Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin spoke at length about different scenarios that could be possible for reopening schools in August. A preliminary plan was issued to the board by the Department of Health and Human Services along with the CDC’s  interim guidance plan, to assist with discussion of the options. Some considerations, if everything goes well this summer, would be the use of personal protection equipment (PPE) for employees and students. The board could be required to supply the PPE’s. This could include masks, hand sanitizer, gloves or possibly protective eyewear. Dr. Baldwin stated “it would be extremely expensive if that was something we were required to do.”   Screening is another issue, to help determine if anyone was actually carrying COVID 19. Purchasing thermometers could be required, but that might not be good enough because many people do not have symptoms of COVID 19 even though they may test positive. 

Even though schools might open on Aug. 17, will families be comfortable sending their children to school?

“How will we address someone who is not comfortable sending their child where they might be contaminated by COVID 19?” said Baldwin. “Will we provide them with remote learning for those families? What will we do with staff who have underlying conditions and cannot work? What if a doctor tells them they may not work if they have diabetes or a heart condition? Particularly bus drivers, many of the bus drivers are over 65 and have these underlying conditions. Will we be able to transport our students?”  

The social distancing requirement that the CDC and the Department of Public Health recommends would make it difficult to transport children on buses. With the smaller mandated class sizes, it might mean the schools will have to provide staggered schedules.  Some of the proposals that Dr. Baldwin has seen would have only elementary students (K-6) starting with in-person instruction and grades seven and up having remote learning from home. Alternate day scheduling may be implemented where one group of students come to school the first week and the next group comes the second week and another group the third week.  The alternate day scheduling would allow for students to be quarantines for 14 days before coming back to school.  During the remote learning the schools would have to provide both digital and non-digital instruction for those without internet.

“That would add a tremendous work load for teachers who would have to provide in person learning and then provide remote learning materials for those groups at home,” noted Baldwin. “Another option would be when there are kids in the building the kids won’t change classrooms; instead the teachers would go from classroom to classroom rather than move the kids.”

Other considerations include meals for students. During remote learning how do schools provide students with their breakfast and lunches?  If students are on campus, will they be able to eat in the cafeteria as they have done in the past?  Many students might go hungry if there are rolling closures because a number of students test positive for COVID 19 and schools are forced to once again close. What might trigger that decision, how many kids need to test positive before the county decides to close schools?  

“I am not ready to make that decision. I have not seen any guidelines on how to make that decision,” said Baldwin.

School Board Member Fred Goldsmith posed another question.

 “It might not be the kids, what if we have half a dozen teachers who are out sick with COVID, how do you find substitutes?” he asked.  

Many of the substitutes themselves are over 65 and would be at risk.

Another issue is the sanitization of buses and facilities. Todd Gibbs, director of secondary curriculum, is working on obtaining sanitizers that would work on facilities and buses if there is another outbreak. 

And once school starts back up, how do educators address the trauma, depression, emotional distress and sometime abuse from the current and future quarantine that they may be dealing with? 

“We know that kids have fallen behind academically, but we also know that this has been an extremely stressful event on our parents on our children and they have been at home together for over two months and they have another two and a half, three months to go. How is that going to impact them and how are we going to deal with those impacts when we start school in August?” said Baldwin. 

Dr. Baldwin said he was providing this information so that the board can make good decisions and put their students in the best possible scenario on Aug. 17.

“I’m sure that you and your staff,  this board, and our teachers will come through,”Goldsmith added.

Superintendents will be in contact with Department of Education and legislatures over the summer and Dr. Baldwin wants the kids back in the classroom in August, but he wants it to be safe for students and staff.  Right now there are a lot of questions about how to do that and there are not any answers.  He noted that this has been a tremendous burden of parents, students and teachers and if they have to do this again in the fall it would have a detrimental impact on the academic future of Macon County’s school children.