By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) Board of Education has reversed its decision to reopen their school system. It will remain in remote learning, per a decision issued on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 9, due to an influx of positive COVID-19 cases in Cherokee.
The Board had previously voted (4-2 vote) on Sept. 21 to reopen the school under ‘Plan B’. This decision was maintained on Monday, Oct. 5 despite a spike in cases in Cherokee and at the school. In those two weeks, there were five cases among CCS employees and 62 new cases reported from Cherokee Indian Hospital. There was an additional 15 positives reported on Wednesday, Oct. 7.
According to charts provided by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) Joint Information Center (JIC) , the testing from Cherokee has been in the ‘red’ COVID Risk level since Sept. 30. The chart deems that red means the community should ‘take strong measures to limit all contact’. Cherokee Indian Hospital is reporting a daily average of 54.9 cases per a 100,000 population, which is more than three times the rate of North Carolina.
After having two lengthy meetings on the issue and receiving reports from each of the school’s principals and leaders, it seemed certain the CCS would return in a limited basis on Oct. 19. However, on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 9, CCS released the following statement on their Facebook page:
“Due to increased COVID activity in our community, Cherokee Central Schools will remain fully virtual until further notice. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. As always the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and community are of the highest importance. Please continue to wear your mask, wash your hands and social distance.”
CCS Athletic Director Sean Ross told the Cherokee One Feather that the continuation of virtual learning won’t affect sports for the fall because the NCHSAA hasn’t put any restriction on sports with regards to remote learning.
In the meetings following up, there were several members of the Board that were staunchly for reopening, and those that were fully opposed.
Wolftown Rep. Chelsea Saunooke, the Tribal Council representatives on the School Board, said that she received a phone call from EBCI Public Health and Human Services Secretary Vickie Bradley just before Monday’s meeting to discuss options for the school and the influx in cases.
“She told me that a lot of spikes are in households that have multi-generations in them,” said Rep. Saunooke. “So, that’s like grandparents, their kids living with them, and then their grandkids. So, that’s where a lot of the cluster data is coming from. I’m not gonna quote her word for word, but I am going to put it in a nutshell. She suggested we stick to the plan if we can. That’s because this is something we’re just gonna have to start adapting to.”
Board Chair Jennifer Thompson was another that was for reopening at that time.
“The data is there, but it’s also kinda skewed. I don’t want to say it to sound bad. It’s just like it’s not out to just equal Cherokee. Also, what can happen to is, whatever community you align with that can be the community it reflects back to. For instance, if Birdtown had five positives today, not all five of them may be residing in Birdtown,” said Thompson.
On Monday, Oct. 5, each school representative reported their progress the beginning of school, with a focus of the objectives of remote learning. They offered their views when it comes to reopening as well. Middle School Principal Joel Creasman and Elementary Principal Paula Coker agreed that they were concerned of the emotional effect of remote learning for their students.
“Some of the major concerns that I thought about here in this whole thing is the social, emotional aspect of it,” said Creasman. “I know this is something that’s going state-wide right now, the concern for the social, emotional being of the child. And also, for the parent, because they’re struggling as well. From what I’ve read, in research the concern is that the longer our kids are off of campus and not getting this social time that they’re used to in school, being able to see their friends on a daily basis and hang out with them and stuff, it increases the suicide rate among teenagers. And also, substance abuse and so on and so forth.”
While Coker also share her concerns with the mental health of the students, she also looked at the realistic issues with reopening.
“If somebody comes to me and says they have a health problem, I’m not second guessing that person. And if they ask me to work from home, even if we have to provide a hotspot for them, we’re allowing them to work from home. The issue is when we bring the children back, we have to have people to supervise them. And we don’t have that many. This is something we just need to think about. We have to be open and honest, what are we going to do then? And that’s what scares me,” said Coker.
The Cherokee One Feather will continue to monitor the decisions of the CCS Board of Education as the semester presses on. The next meeting of the Board will take place on Monday, Oct. 19.
The Board meets bi-weekly on Mondays with sessions beginning at 4:45 p.m. in the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center in Cherokee Middle School.