School board discusses new social distancing measures


By Shaun Adams


The Swain County Board of Education held its monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 30. Under discussion were several board policies and ongoing plans for how instruction will be conducted in the fall. The school district is awaiting more guidance from the state, and Gov. Roy Cooper was anticipated to make an announcement Wednesday afternoon after press time offering more details about whether students will return to school with strict social distancing guidelines, less strict guidelines or if remote learning would continue through the fall. In-person classes were suspended March 14 due the COVID-19 pandemic. Swain County Schools, like other districts throughout the state, have been working hard to develop plans under each scenario.


Jumpstart Program

Around 120 Swain County Schools students have been identified to take part in the Jumpstart Program, a summer program to help those students whose learning fell behind this spring when students were forced to learn remotely.

Superintendent Mark Sale provided some details on how the program will look as it negotiates new requirements due to the ongoing health pandemic.  Among requirements is a maximum of 15 students per classroom.

The program will begin Monday, July 20 and will run that whole week, but students won’t actually show up until Tuesday. Nine buses will run to pick up students and meet the distancing guidelines. Sale is also interested in how long it will take to get the students into the building.

“With the new guidelines we have for reentry, every student’s temperature is going to have to be taken, and there are going to be questions asked of the students,” he said. “We will also have to figure out how we are going to get their hands sanitized when they walk in the building.”

Safety will be the priority, but it does involve more steps for the staff.

“It’s overwhelming all the things that we are going to have to do to keep everybody safe, but we are going to get it done,” Sale said.

Board member Lambert Wilson asked about requirements for students regarding masks, and Sale said that in accordance with Gov. Roy Cooper’s order last week, masks would need to be worn by students from sixth grade up. The new rule excludes people who are 11 years old or younger or have medical conditions or behavioral conditions that would exempt them.

“On a personal level, I agree with that because it can be difficult for young students,” Sale said about excluding elementary students from the rule. “It can be difficult for the teachers of young students to keep them on.”

Wilson also asked if the adults will be wearing masks and Sale said adults would be wearing masks if they are within six feet of a student, but expressed his concern that “in order for a student to learn to read well they need to be able to see the mouth of the teacher.” However, if a teacher has their mask off, they must remain six feet away from the students, and the school is going to try to maintain a six-foot distance between students, he said.

The summer program is sure to provide some insight on what schools could like when they reopen for all students on Aug. 17 if students are allowed to return to the classroom. Otherwise, remote learning will continue.

Remote learning

The state has required public school systems to develop a remote learning plan, and there are 16 points that will have to be addressed. Sale said Swain County Schools Administration has been working on this for 2-3 weeks and have it in a draft format, and it will be presented to the board at the next meeting. The school is taking it into account that not every student has good connectivity, and they will have to have multiple approaches to that.

In actions Tuesday, the board unanimously hired Penny Cody as a teacher at West Elementary and approved several budget amendments.