Swain Schools now to close for at least 2 weeks


Prior to statewide closure, district holds meeting to unveil plans

  • Dr. Brandon Sutton shows the board the School Decision Tree from the CDC
    Dr. Brandon Sutton shows the board the School Decision Tree from the CDC

On Saturday evening, NC Governor Roy Cooper announced a statewide closure of all public schools for at least 2 weeks.

Prior to the Governor's order, Swain County Board of Education’s emergency meeting on Friday, March 13, with plans to stay open. 

The board met for the second time this week to hear the plans developed by the Central Office that follows strategies laid out by the US Centers for Disease Control. 

A letter to parents was posted to the county school’s website today on a newly developed page for COVID-19 information. In it, Sale notes that, as anticipated, the virus seems to be moving closer to the mountains although no cases in the area have been identified.

The school system has been in continual contact with the Swain County Health Department and will continue to do so. The letter includes prevention measures such as proper hand washing and avoiding close contact with those who are sick. 

At the meeting, Sale began by referencing a letter from the US Centers for Disease Control on considerations for school closures, stressing that models are showing closures of 1-2 weeks are negligible in reducing the spread of the virus; and that an effect would mean at least an 8 week closure. 

“We don’t believe it’s the right thing for our system to do except under extreme circumstances or if we are instructed by the Governor or the Department of Public Instruction to close,” Sale said. 

A closure decision would come from Sale, Swain Health Director Alison Cochran and the school board.

“I think it’s really important for the record to reflect, while this is an Emergency Meeting because of the time frame and legality of which it was called, we are not in an emergency situation at this time we’re in a heightened situation of awareness and information gathering,” said school board chair Mellie Burns. 

The board then heard the four phases developed for the school system in response to COVID-19. The plans follow the School Decision Tree from the CDC, which can be found on the school website. https://www.swain.k12.nc.us/


Phase 1

Currently, the system is in Phase 1. 

“Our first phase is to allow us to plan and prepare to limit community spread in the school,” said Toby Burrell.

Beginning Monday, no visitors will be allowed in student areas and there will be no volunteers will be permitted. Sale noted that education student interns in the classroom from Western Carolina University would still be permitted. 

Social distancing measures are being developed particularly for physical education, lunch, early morning gatherings and afterschool. 

The high school prom and the musical have both been postponed to May 9 and late April, respectively. 

Also in phase 1 staff and students who might be medically fragile will be identified. Those who elect to stay home will be required to submit a statement in writing and will be excused until the state emergency is lifted. 


Phase 2

Future plans respond to confirmed cases, with phase 2 addressing if there is a confirmed outbreak in Swain County. 
“Our goal is that we limit community spread without disrupting education,” said Tommy Dills.

During phase 2 the district will develop ways to differentiate for students, faculty and staff who have compromised immune systems. “If you’re a student we’re going to try to do everything to accommodate you,” Dills said.

Travel will be limited on a case-by-case basis and public gatherings and meetings as well as visitor access in student areas will be further restricted. 


Phase 3

The next phase addressed the response if it were someone within the school system confirmed to have coronavirus COVID-19. 

This phase would begin by notification for everyone in the system and closing the school for disinfecting for at least 2 days. 

“We want to reduce the impact on student learning but keep it from spreading,” said Katrina Turbyfill. “We’ll notify everyone the school will be closed with a timetable for cleaning in conjunction with the health department.”

“We’re concerned about kids not having food, so we’re already making plans about how to get the food to them.” 

Of course, if the school closed all after school activity and travel would be suspended. 

The system would work with those quarantined to continue to provide instruction likely online. 

Access to all district buildings would be denied to the public and all public gatherings/meetings would be cancelled.

“It’s important to note the phases are not a checklist; it’s dependent on that very first question,” said Burrell. “You’ll see some [steps] that will be in each section.”


Phase 4

The final phase of the plan would address if there were multiple confirmed cases in the school system. 

“Phase 4 is Code Red, we have multiple cases in different schools at that point. We would be in conference with the health department and we will decide when to close the schools,” Superintendent Sale said. “If we have that level of an invasion of that particular virus there are some aggressive actions that need to be taken.”


More information

For now, the system will continue to be in Phase 1 of the plan and stay in constant contact with the health department and follow guidelines from the CDC.

The system also plans to continually update its website and social media sites to share information with families.