Swain County Board of Education held a special meting on Wednesday, Dec. 9 with its new board. By unanimous decision, the board adopted a modified Plan B for the spring semester to begin Jan. 5. The plan, which is due to the ongoing pandemic, will allow for students who have been attending school virtually on Plan C to come back to the classroom.
The first order of business Wednesday was welcoming the two new board members, Cody White and Mitchell Carson, to the board. Then, through unanimous decision, the board voted Gerald McKinney as the new chairman and Kim Carpenter as vice chair. Travis Crisp also serves on the board.
Superintendent Mark Sale, who brought the spring semester options before the board, said the district estimates about 365 students who were fully remote want to return to attending school on campus.
With the adopted plan, the biggest shift will be at the elementary schools. To adjust for the necessary social distancing and keep classrooms at 11 or fewer students, Swain West and East Elementary will return to a rotation schedule. Under this plan, Group A will attend in-person classes Monday and Tuesday and Group B will attend in-person classes Thursday and Friday. Students will attend the other three school days remotely. (This plan is like how the district began classes in the fall.)
Under the current state restrictions, middle and high school students can only attend under a Plan B schedule with in-person classes just a couple of days a week. The middle school has its own plan that will keep classrooms limited to 12 students. There will be an estimated 80-100 students returning for in-person classes at the high school on a rotating schedule. Scheduling at Bright Adventures Pre-K will be unchanged.
Principals have reached out the remote learners, but as of Wednesday, they had a few that they hadn’t gotten word back from. Parents with students on Plan C who want them to return to Plan B must sign up to do so by Dec. 18. After that, it will go to an application process and be on a first-come, first-serve basis so social distancing can continue.
Sale commended the principals for all they have done to make these plans work. He also noted the district will also need to continue social distancing on buses, with just one child per seat.
Included in the decision, the board continued to give authority to Sale and Swain County Health Department Director Alison Cochran to close the schools for in-person attendance if needed due to COVID-19.
While Sale said he recognized stepping back to elementary students attending just two days is not ideal, but the district leadership feels it is critical for the Plan C students who want to return to be able to do so.
The board agreed those students need the opportunity to return. Board member Carson noted it is out of concern “they are being more negatively effected than those kids that will lose those two days.”
The principals also showed support for the plan.
“We think this is the plan we can go with and we can continue to keep everybody safe,” said Vicki Davis, principal at West Elementary.
Tim Kerr, also spoke to the dire need of allowing those students who need to be in the classroom to return from remote learning, with his words causing some emotions among those in the room.
“I’ve had at least 10 parents who have begged me to allow their students to come back in the building, and at this point I can’t, and that’s hard to say to a parent
who wants a child to be inside a building to learn from a teacher instead of a computer program,” he said.
The board also heard an update on the virus from Cochran. She told the board the health department is anticipating it will get the Pfizer vaccine beginning next week, with the first ones being made available to healthcare workers. School personnel would be in the second group.
Also Wednesday, the board approved the calendar for the spring semester. Sale noted that there are not a lot of teacher workdays padding the schedule, so if there are many snow days, parents should be aware it could impact spring break.
He also noted because of the requirements around testing, high school students may have to attend tests on Memorial Day.