Swain students will return to the classroom


Parents, guardians urged to fill out survey

  • Students and teachers will wear masks and social distance
    Students and teachers will wear masks and social distance

Swain County Schools are planning for in person instruction for the majority of students come this fall, pre-K-12, with plans in the works to meet the guidelines for social distancing as required by the state in light of the ongoing public health pandemic.

Under the plan, students can attend in person with strict social distancing—Plan B from the state. Remote learning is also on option—Plan C.

According to initial local survey data, the district estimates 70 percent of parents want students to return.

“At the foundational level, I believe what’s important for our kids is they are able to have the opportunity for face-to-face instruction, which is high quality,” said Swain Superintendent Mark Sale. “We will do that by whatever measures we are able within the boundaries given to us by the state to make that happen.”

The goal is to get close to exact numbers to determine the details of how the district will adapt in regard to how many students will be in the school on any given day and whether students will need to rotate with some days in the classroom and other days doing remote learning, as well as how the bus routes will be impacted.

Parents and guardians are being urged to participate in the online survey released this week.

“The numbers are so important now so we can begin that concrete plan,” Burrell said. The district will follow up with communications to parents this week.

The state has provided school districts with about seven plans they can go by, said Toby Burrell, public relations officer, but Swain Schools wants the best plan for this district.

“We’re not going to find the perfect solution for everybody, but we’re sure gonna try,” Burrell said.

The district is considering multiple models for rotation to keep the number of people in the building down at one time. There is potential that rotation will not be needed, however, if several choose remote learning.

“We are not putting our finger on a particular plan today,” Sale said July 16.

It is their intent to have a final decision on Thursday, July 23 in a special called board of education meeting, he said.


Daily screening, more cleaning

Measures to prevent the spread of infection of COVID-19 set by the state will be implemented into the school day.

To start, everyone entering the school will be screened daily with questions and through temperature checks either upon riding the school bus or arriving at the school.

Sale said there will be check-in kiosks outside the office and there will be kiosks for temperature checks with facial recognition instead of dedicating a lot of staff to that screening process. Most visitors will not be allowed in the building.

People will wear masks, with the state committing to providing at least five reusable masks for everyone. In addition, hand sanitizer stations will be readily available in most areas.

To further reduce the potential for spread, social distancing measures will be in place from one-way hallways to spaced seating in classrooms. A diamond approach to seating is being looked at for classrooms. Opportunities for foot traffic will be reduced, Burrell explained, with students eating lunch in the classrooms and elementary students staying in their pods.

Social distancing plans are a little more difficult given the buildings and changing classes for the middle and high school.

“We’re doing our best to follow the DHHS guidelines and adapt to what our buildings will allow,” Sale said.

On buses, windows will be cracked to increase circulation and students will have to stay in their designated, spaced seats.

The district received $360,000 in federal funding from the CARES Act that will go toward cleaning supplies, remote learning supplies and hiring additional custodial staff. Among those purchases is new cleaning products that are supposed to kill viruses within minutes of being applied.

The best thing parents can do when they send their children to school each day is do those checks themselves before sending them, Sale noted. If a student has a temperature or has any symptoms of COVID-19, they will not be permitted to attend class.

If someone is presumptive or tests positive for the virus, they will be isolated and the Swain County Health Department will be notified. That individual would have to self-isolate for at least 10 days before returning. The health department would do contact tracing and make decisions regarding the need to close or keep other individuals from attending for a time.

The school system is also surveying its faculty and staff. For high-risk staff who don’t feel comfortable to return to face to face instruction, options are somewhat limited. “They have the opportunity to ask for reassignment if that fear is there,” Sale said.

They can take a leave of absence, but the finding available for that program isn’t what it was in the spring, he noted. “Beyond that, their options dwindle a little bit, but we’re committed to finding a way for them to continue to work,” he said.

Burrell noted there will be a need for teachers to facilitate the virtual instruction program for those who choose remote learning.

Both stressed the need for input at this point so the best plan can be implanted. The school leadership is working exceptionally hard to make sure the plans will fit the needs of Swain County, they added.

“We want every student in the classroom as often as we can get them there,” Sale said “We have to follow the guidelines that we are given.”

Plans are also in place to improve remote learning for students. Among those plans is the purchase of two online education programs the district will be using. Read next week’s edition of Smoky Mountain Times to see more details on remote learning.