Highlands is planning for all k-12 in-school, classes

Due to their size, Highlands and Nantahala Schools are reopening Aug. 17 under different guidelines than the Franklin-area schools.

During the Monday night Macon County School Board meeting, Superintendent of Macon County Schools Dr. Chris Baldwin and staff outlined various scenarios for the nine other schools in the district which involve alternate days or alternate weeks or complete remote learning through the system’s new Virtual Academy.

Though Highlands School has more enrollees than usual, it and Nantahala still have fewer students and more useable square footage than other schools in the district so they will have in-person school at their locations for all grades K-12, five days a week.

However, there are still strict requirements that must be followed involving social-distancing, cleaning protocols and symptom checks.

“Highlands School’s ADM (Average Daily Membership) vs. square footage will allow staff to manage the social distancing requirements that more densely populated schools in the Franklin area cannot manage,” said Superintendent Baldwin. “For example, Highlands School’s projected average class size in grades K-3 is 12.8 compared to 18.5 in the Franklin-area schools. It is much easier to space 13 children 6 feet apart than it is to socially distance 19 students in roughly the same amount of space.”

Highlands School Principal Brian Jetter said his goal is to get all students K-12 to school five days a week beginning Aug. 17 but specifics are still being worked out.

“At the moment, we think it will involve masks for anyone that enters the building whether it is an adult or student K-12; 6-foot distancing in and out of class; very limited visitors, parents or others, who will all have to wear a mask; everyone having temperatures checked before they can enter the building; desks in classrooms 6 feet apart; students and teachers washing their hands three to four times a day; rooms with hand sanitizer; all rooms wiped down with sanitizer wipes at least three times a day; every classroom sprayed with an electrostatic sanitizer every evening when there is no one else in the building; students and teachers having scheduled breaks outside with social distancing for mask-free breaks; breakfast and lunch eaten in the classrooms for most students; and students going directly to their classrooms in the morning with no congregating in the halls or school foyer,” said Jetter.

Jetter said that scenario is a lot to do and will mean further planning, discussion and finalization to reach the ultimate goal – “Safety for students and employees first.” 

Though intentions are good, Jetter said he and staff may not be able to reach their goal of all students for five days a week in school.

“If we do not, we will go with another goal. So, I would ask parents to wait until we officially announce the specifics of opening school for the coming year – hopefully by Aug. 3. But we still have a lot of work and planning to do,” he said.

For those families who don’t want to risk in-person school, Macon County is creating a Virtual Academy for grades K-12. Any Macon County student can enroll for a minimum of nine weeks. After the nine-week period, they can choose to resume in-person school or continue with the Virtual Academy.

Meanwhile, Jetter said he doesn’t know the reasons, but this year there is growth in student enrollment from local and Summit Charter School transfers.

As of Tuesday, July 21, there are 409 students enrolled but he said that number can change daily.

So far for the 2020-’21 school year there are two Kindergarten classes for 27 students; two 1st-grade classes for 34 students; two 2nd-grade classes for 21 students; two 3rd-grade classes for 29 students; one 4th grade class for 24 students; one 5th grade class for 20 students; two 6th-grade classes for 35 students; two 7th-grade sections for 47 students; two 8th-grade sections for 32 students; four per day, 22 9th-graders; four per day, 45 10th-graders; four per day, 43 11th-graders and four per day 29 12th-graders.

Due to the number of students currently enrolled, the 4th-grade class was closed two weeks ago to discretionary students. A discretionary student is a student who lives outside the Highlands School District. 

Normally, those students are considered for enrollment, but available classrooms and teachers are the issue this year.

Everyone who enters the school will pass through a temperature taking machine that looks a lot like a metal detector. All schools in the system that requested these machines were given them – Highlands asked for and received five.

A person walks through it and the machine takes the temperature. If the temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher, the attendant is alerted. The person then goes to the office where another temperature is taken for verification. If the temperature verifies at 100.4 degrees or higher, and if the person is a student, they would be isolated, and a parent called to come get them. If it is an adult (even a teacher), the adult is removed from the building. 

In both cases, the Health Department will be called, and the person’s name and contact information given so the Health Department can follow-up.

Macon County Schools released another parent survey whose results will be collected until 4 p.m. Wed. July 29. This survey is site specific, therefore, parents are asked to complete it for each of their children. 

Click HERE to take the survey. 

Once the survey results are gathered, the Macon County Board of Education will hold at continued meeting Thursday, July 30 at 6 p.m. to announce the reopening plans for the district – specifically in the Franklin area. – which will be based on the wishes and responses from the surveys completed by district parents.

By Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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