Macon County Public Schools is gathering as much information as possible regarding the potential reopening of public schools on Aug. 17.
During Monday’s board of education meeting, superintendent Chris Baldwin stated that the school district would be sending out a survey to parents, teachers and administrators regarding the format of in-class instruction when the school year gets underway.
“We did a parent and teacher survey in June that showed approximately 85 percent of parents and 85 percent of teachers preferred returning to in-class instruction on Aug. 17,” Baldwin said. “That of course, was before the state chose to reopen under ‘Plan B’ and we are pretty confident that some folks have changed their mind regarding their preferences as cases have increased.”
The second round of surveys was distributed to parents and teachers on Wednesday.
Baldwin noted that Macon County’s two K-12 schools, Highlands and Nantahala, may be able to start the school year with all students participating in class five days a week due to the square footage of the school buildings and the relatively small average daily membership (student enrollment) numbers for those schools.
“It appears based on the ADM for those schools that we may be able to offer in-person instruction to those students five days a week,” Baldwin said. “That of course is not confirmed at this time, but we are hopeful that may be the case.”
Baldwin noted that Highlands may be able to return all students to class on the traditional schedule due to the decision to decrease class sizes prior to the 2019-20 school year. Smaller class sizes means that students can be appropriately social distanced while at their desks and in common areas.
“The state says that the elementary grade class size maximum is 21-22 students, and in Franklin our elementary classes have that many students, so it makes it impossible to keep them six feet apart at their desks given the classroom size,” Baldwin said. “In Highlands, we had 28-29 students in elementary classes, so prior to last year those classes were split between two teachers, giving each class anywhere from 13-15 students. With 15-16 students or less in a classroom they can maintain social distancing.”
Baldwin noted that in the parent survey that was sent out on Wednesday, parents will have the option to choose remote learning only for their students. If parents choose to enroll their students in the virtual school option, it could create more space to accommodate social distancing.
“We are fairly confident some families are going to choose the virtual option due to COVID-19 both in Highlands and in Franklin,” Baldwin said. “If a parent chooses that route for their child, the student will be required to stay in the virtual school for a minimum of nine weeks.”
If students are able to go back to school on a normal five-day schedule in Highlands, Baldwin noted that the school day would look very different than in years past. Students will not be allowed to congregate in the cafeteria or gymnasium. Meals will be eaten at desks in the classroom and gym class will feature no physical contact or shared equipment.
“In order to keep students as safe as possible, the state has made it clear that the students are not to share anything, even down to a basketball,” Baldwin said. “If a student wants to shoot baskets, they have to have their own ball, which can be disinfected after each class.”
In Franklin, where maintaining social distancing of students is not possible based on the classroom size, parents are going to be asked which format they prefer – either alternating days of in-class instruction, or alternating weeks. Under either format, students would be broken in to A and B groups and attend schools on a split schedule combined with remote learning.
The Macon County Board of Education will hold a specially called meeting on Thursday, July 30 to make a final decision on the school format for Franklin area, Highlands and Nantahala schools.
Highlands School graduation will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1 on the school track.
Only graduating seniors and parents who have tickets will be allowed in the track area. All other guests will need to watch the graduation ceremony from outside the fence that surrounds the track.