Schools close due to COVID-19, remote learning begins

  • Schools are instructing students using online lessons while facilities are closed due to coronavirus.
    Schools are instructing students using online lessons while facilities are closed due to coronavirus.

Macon County Public Schools are in uncharted waters.

School administrators are doing their best to keep the ship steadily sailing in the right direction.

On Saturday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order closing schools for a minimum of two weeks, from March 16 – March 30 due to COVID-19 coronavirus. The order signaled an immediate shift to remote learning and online instruction for public schools across the state.

“While we can never replace the face-to-face interaction between our teachers and our students, we are going to do the best we can to make sure that our students have the materials they need to keep learning from home,” MCS Superintendent Chris Baldwin said. “We have put together a plan to get us through this first week and we are now focusing on week two.”

Baldwin noted that the timing of Cooper’s order created a crunch for teachers trying to prepare lessons for online or distance learning.

“Our planning for an extended closure really started on Friday (March 13),” Baldwin said. “We expected that a closure would be coming, but we didn’t expect it to be as soon as Monday. We were hoping that we might get a little more time to prepare.”

Baldwin added that the first week of the closure has been focused on reviewing lessons that have already been taught in person by teachers. The focus will shift to instruction of new material in coming weeks.

Following a teacher workday on Monday, Baldwin was scheduled to meet with elementary school principals on Tuesday to discuss the process of distributing online lessons to the youngest group of students.

“With the high school kids it’s easier to do remote learning because they all understand how email works and they all have devices (iPads) that are connectable to the internet,” Baldwin said. “Right now we are surveying the middle schools to see what we can do about making sure each of those students has a connectable device. Then it will be on to the elementary students, many of whom have devices at home, they just aren’t school issued.”

For students who may not have reliable internet access at home, the school district is making wifi network access available at school sites during the closure. Franklin High School will be the first to have open public wifi and other schools will follow in coming days.

Meals are being made available to students during the closure as well. Food distribution sites opened on Tuesday at Highlands School, Franklin High School, South Macon Elementary, Mountain View Intermediate and Nantahala School. Meals are available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, free of charge.

In addition, busses will be running bus routes during the same time window each day to deliver meals to children who don’t have transportation to the school.

“We have money in our budget for the meals and we have money in the budget for transportation, so it makes sense to ensure that students are getting the nutrition they are accustomed to,” Baldwin said. “We have also had a number of churches and local restaurants step up and offer donations. We plan to keep the meals coming as long as the closure lasts.”

How long that may be s still anyone’s guess. 

While Cooper’s order closed schools through March 30, there is a chance that the closure could last longer than expected.

“Right now we just don’t know, so we have to be as prepared as we can be and do our best to make sure our students are continuing learning during this uncertain time,” Baldwin said. “We will continue to update our remote learning plan and move forward until its time to reopen.”