By Dave Russell
Jackson County Public Schools’ buildings will open for business four days a week starting April 5.
At a special-called Tuesday meeting, the Board of Education voted unanimously to follow the lead of state leaders and get kids back in classrooms.
Last week, Senate Bill 220, the The Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021, made it through the N.C. Senate on March 10 and the House on March 11, unanimously in both cases. Gov. Roy Cooper scrawled his name on it that afternoon.
The bill requires elementary schools to operate under Plan A, full in-person learning.
Middle and high schools would have the option to operate under Plan A. Plan B requires 6 feet of physical distancing, making it difficult to offer full-time in-person classes.
The bill stipulates schools must offer remote instruction to students who don’t want in-person classes.
As soon as the Pledge of Allegiance ended Tuesday, Board Chair Ali Laird-Large turned the floor over to Interim Superintendent Tony Tipton.
“Our goal this year has always been to have all our students in school five days a week,” he said. “With the COVID 19 restrictions, that simply has not been possible.”
Each time Cooper eased restrictions on school, the county opened buildings as much as possible. The schools adopted the A/B schedule in September, then brought Pre-K through 5th-graders in four days a week starting in October. Sixth- through 12th-graders stayed on the A-B schedule.
“Now with Senate Bill 220 becoming law, it is again time for us to move forward,” he said. “The plan I am proposing tonight will take a great deal of work on the part of our principals and teachers.”
Tipton’s recommendation to the board would be to open the schools to Plan A – in-person instruction Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and remote on Wednesday – on April 5, the Monday after spring break. Current remote-only students could return at that time, he said.
In some cases, students returning to in-person learning may be assigned a different teacher.
Schools would be sanitized on Wednesdays.
“Jackson Community School has been four days a week with Wednesday as their remote day for several months, and this has gone well,” he said.
Jackson County Early College will be four days a week with Friday being their remote day due to Southwestern Community College’s schedule.
Senate Bill 220 requires any district moving to Plan A to submit their plan to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Tipton said.
State officials can’t reject the plan, they just need a copy, he said.
“If this plan is approved by the board tonight, we will immediately begin the planning process,” he said. “We will be asking parents to contact their child’s school as soon as possible if they plan to move from remote only to in-person learning.”
Planning over the next week and a half would include:
• Rescheduling both morning and afternoon bus routes.
• Assigning any current remote only learners that may opt to return to in-person learning to a bus route.
• Ordering additional food for the cafeterias.
“We will no longer offer Plan B with our A-B schedule,” he said. “Our teachers simply cannot accommodate that third option. JCPS will offer four-days-a-week or remote-only options.”
The school system would continue to monitor COVID-19 numbers and take immediate action when necessary, he said.
Jackson’s education leaders have touted their success controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the schools. As of Tuesday afternoon, there had been 122 student cases, 57 staff cases and three non-staff cases, according to the JCPS COVID-19 Dashboard. There are no active cases in any of the schools at this time.
“As we are currently doing in our elementary grades, when possible, we will continue to socially distance, continue to wear masks and continue to wash hands,” he said.
“I want to say thanks to our staff, our students and our parents for their understanding and hard work as we have all worked our way through this school year with COVID-19,” he said. “While this will create a great deal of work for our principals and teachers, it is the right thing to do. “I fully believe that we are in the position to have a strong finish to this school year while keeping both our staff and students safe.”