By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Like all public schools in North Carolina, Swain County is scrambling to gather all possible information in preparation for one of the most questioned semesters in recent history.
N.C. Governor Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday, July 14 that state public schools would be operating under Plan B, a measure that includes a hybrid of in-class learning and remote learning. Swain County Schools Superintendent Mark Sale said that he was not fully prepared for the information offered at the press conference.
“It took me a little bit by surprise because in all honesty I thought that the governor was going to move to Plan A. I understand why he didn’t, but I thought he was going to move to Plan A. Because it would allow flexibility in the various districts. We could always dial back and be more restrictive, but we can’t open up,” said Sale.
He remarked that Swain County, which has only seen 77 positive cases of COVID-19 at the printing of this article, is in a lot better situation than some of the other counties in North Carolina. However, this was not the only aspect of Governor Cooper’s announcement that caught Sale off-guard.
“I think the bigger shock for me was when he said that we’re going to have masks for kindergarten through fifth grade. I really wasn’t expecting that in any way. Especially after he called everybody from sixth grade up to have masks just a week or two ago.”
Sale said that now it is time for Swain County to come together with its school system to manifest the most feasible plan moving forward.
“The very next step for us is to gather data from our community. That is probably the most crucial piece that we’re waiting on. We put out a news survey [Wednesday], we had one that went out on Monday and we got good results. I’m really thankful to our community for how they responded. But we needed to drill down into some of the numbers a little bit more.”
Part of Governor Cooper’s decision is that it is not an all-encompassing order. It is a minimum.
“As a part of this plan, we want local school districts to provide a remote learning option for any child who chooses it. In addition, school districts will have the option of Plan C – all remote learning – if that’s best for them,” said Governor Cooper on Tuesday.
Most school systems are taking this a step further and allowing individual families to make their decision on whether they are comfortable bringing their children back to campus. This is why Swain County’s survey is so important.
Sale said that there are two major questions they need answered from each family:
- Are you planning on allowing your child back to school with Plan B, or would you like to exercise Plan C (full remote learning)?
- If yes, how do you plan on getting your child to school each day?
These questions dictate everything moving forward for Swain County Schools. They must know just how many kids will be on campus and how to separate them into two groups. Also, in Plan B, buses are limited to carrying one child per seat unless the children are related. Sale says that this means they can only fit 20-27 kids per bus, and that the difficulty increased in certain communities.
Superintendent Sale says that a model has not yet been finalized, but that a possible solution to the A/B schedule will be to have Wednesdays as a remote-only day. He said that this model provides a chance to have the facilities appropriately cleaned before the second group attends classes for half of the week.
“Right now, because we’re really not sure what we’re dealing with as far as the spread and what would happen when our students get into the buildings how much cross-contamination and spread will happen there. Even though we’ll make every plan we possibly can to keep that from happening, there’s still that potential for cross-contamination,” said Sale.
He says that the biggest factor that would cause the school to have to change course would be a situation where multiple staff members test positive for COVID-19.
“Whenever you start to lose teachers for 14 days at minimum, you are really creating some difficulties in delivering instruction to hundreds of students. And, if it gets to the point where we’re losing too many teachers, we may opt to look at moving to more of a remote learning type plan exclusively for a period of time.”
All these issues are ones presented on campus. There are plenty of more when it comes to remote learning. “We’re going to fall back on some of the things that we used back in the Spring, and those are community hotspots. We’ve been in conversations with our two primary providers for internet and connectivity. That would be Zito Media and Skywaves,” said Sale.
“We’ve got some Kajeet hotspots that are actually designed to be put on buses. They work off of the cell signal service through Verizon Wireless, I believe. Instead of putting them on buses, what we’ve done is we put them in buildings.”
Sale continued by saying that they have been in communication with local churches and the business education center to provide places for students to work.
“We’ve going to use all of the resources we’ve got there to give our families somewhere to go. That still doesn’t help them always have the service and connectivity that they really need at their home.”
Sale says that they are trying to address every problem they can, and part of that is communication with other school districts. He says that he has been in constant contact with other local Superintendents. They have had multiple online meetings and have been texting regularly since the news on Tuesday.
The Swain County Board of Education will be meeting Thursday evening at 6 p.m. to discuss all the plans moving forward. That meeting can be watched live or afterwards on the Maroon Devils Network YouTube page.
Sale asks that all parents who have children at Swain County Schools fill out their survey. The link to that survey is as follows: https://bit.ly/SwainK12ParentSurvey.
“We’re sincerely concerned with the health and the safety in all the different aspects of a student’s life. We’re working very hard that we take care of those,” said Sale.
“We’re also concerned with providing for our staff because it’s just stressful for everyone. So, we’re doing our very best to provide the best educational product that we can for all of our students. And, at the same time, realize that everybody in our community is struggling a little bit and we want to help them.”