Jake Buchanan

Jake Buchanan

By Dave Russell

The plan for Jackson County schools to re-open is a bad one, according to one of its authors. 

“There are lots of options to do this,” Assistant Superintendent Jake Buchanan told the Jackson County Board of Education Tuesday evening. “There is no good plan. That being said, we have to have a plan.”

The meeting should not end without a plan so that parents could make plans of their own, he said.

Almost three hours later, the board had a plan:

• Remote learning would be an option for all students. 

• A two-week orientation beginning Aug. 17 would divide students into A and B groups and have them in school buildings on an AA/remote learning/BB schedule. One group will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays with the other group going Thursdays and Fridays. The three days students aren’t in school each week will be for remote learning.

• Two weeks of remote learning would follow, beginning Sept. 7.

• Jackson County Early College would be remote every Friday.

• Pre-K and special instruction students would still attend face-to-face on an AA/remote/BB schedule even after other students go totally remote.

The plan had three goals – student and staff safety, consistent instruction and to adhere to the guidelines laid out by the state, Buchanan said.

The plan has some components of the B and C plans put forth by Gov. Roy Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, he said.

Plan B would limit attendance to about half in the building at any given time, a combination of in-school and remote learning.

Plan C would be remote only. 

Board member Wes Jamison proposed beginning the school year on Plan C. He reasoned an inevitable outbreak would lead the schools to Plan C anyway.

Other board members felt students, especially younger students, needed the face-to-face time with their teachers for bonding.

During orientation, students would meet teachers and learn the remote-learning platforms. Teachers would instruct students on “How do I be a remote learner?” Parent/teacher training, face-to-face or remote, would take place during each student’s assigned day.

“We’ll go through this one week, and there will be challenges that pop up and there will be frustrations with parents trying to support their children,” Buchanan said. “There will frustrations for the kids and then the kids will come back the next week and they will be able to problem solve together.”

Board members brought up child care repeatedly.

“The challenges of social distancing have put us in the situation where we cannot have child care for all of our families regardless of what we can do,” Buchanan said. “We cannot have students in school every day all day under the new guidelines.”

Teachers need to know what percentage of students will adhere to the Plan B hybrid and how many would be remote-only, Fairview Elementary Principal Eleanor Macaulay told the board.

She wanted to hear from parents by Friday.

The board directed Testing Accountability Director Adam Holt to send out a survey to determine the numbers. It has been tried before.

“We have about 32 percent who were either unresponsive or undecided,” he said. “That would be the starting place to determine to figure out which way they were leaning. We had just under 50 percent who want face-to-face.”

The remainder chose remote-only.

“But there is going to be a percentage of our population that does not have internet or email, so there will have to be phone calls as well,” he said.

If parents do not respond to the schools’ attempts to reach them, their children should be assigned to remote-learning only, board members said. 

The plan is fluid. The board plans to meet every two weeks instead of monthly to plot a course forward, based on a variety of factors stemming from COVID-19.

Buchanan outlined issues that could throw sand in the machine: 

• An outbreak among staff/students.

• Increased measures for safety, sanitation, nursing services putting a strain on individual departments.

• Governor’s orders could begin Plan B and then move to Plan C.

• Directives to change plans from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services or Jackson County Department of Public Health.

• Required cautionary quarantine of students or staff.