First day of school for Macon County and Highlands

Half of the students in the state returned to in-person instruction Monday for the Fall 2020 semester, but before students even made it to the classroom, Macon County Schools learned a member of the staff tested positive for COVID19. 

“As of late Friday afternoon, we were made aware that one of our staff members had tested positive for COVID19,” said Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin at Monday night’s BOE meeting. “As a result of that positive test, we now have additional staff members who have to sit out of work for the quarantine period of 14 days since being exposed to that person.”

Students have their temperature taken upon entering school.

Dr. Baldwin said the district knew this was an issue schools would be facing.

“We also had additional exposure Monday that will impact our staffing moving forward,” he said. “It is something we will be monitoring closely and we will be communicating with the health department daily to find out who might need to be quarantined for a period of time. 

Following Monday night’s announcement, Wednesday afternoon, the district sent out an email reconfirming the positive COVID19 testing and noted that more information will be forthcoming. 

Signage on the floors reminding students to maintain social distance.

“Dr. Baldwin also confirmed that other staff members were exposed on Monday, August 17th after parents who had tested positive entered the school building. Macon County Schools is working diligently with the Macon County Health Department to contact trace for other possible exposures. When a complete list of staff members are identified, the locations (schools) will be named,” read the release.

Dr. Baldwin said the school district didn’t know the parents were positive until after they entered the school and were made aware when staff notified school leadership, but parents should assume that COVID-19 is in “their” school because it will be.

Obviously, parents want to know which schools in the county have been affected. Dr. Baldwin said he would release information once the health dept. has released all the information to him.

Staff and students all wearing masks while at school.The first day of in-person school at Highlands School for K-5th was Aug. 17.  Middle School students begin Aug. 19 and High School students start in-person Aug. 21.

Wednesday afternoon, updates concerning schools in the Franklin area were sent out.

“As anticipated, with the re-opening of schools, we experienced positive cases of COVID-19 at Macon Middle School, Mountain View Intermediate School and South Macon Elementary School Cafeteria Teams.

“These individuals have been in quarantine since the beginning of the week and have not been on campus to expose students.

“As a precaution, members of those cafeteria teams have been sent home to quarantine according to contact tracing protocols. With the help of CareNet, bagged lunches will be served Thursday.”

Dr. Baldwn said that most parents have been supportive of the district’s health and safety guidelines and encourages parents to respect those guidelines moving forward. 

Maintaining social distancing in the hallway as best possible.

“We ask parents to please follow the screenings in the tool kit,” he said.

In addition to parents, Dr. Baldwin said there were students turned away from schools due to a fever, some of which have since seen the doctor and tested positive for strep throat.

The MC Health Department held a free drive-thru testing clinic at Macon Middle School Thursday, Aug. 13 and had dedicated time available for teachers and school staff to be tested. With testing delays on the state level, it is unlikely all of those test results have been returned to the health department.

Emily Ritter with MC Public Health announced Tuesday that an employee at the Health dept. tested positive and that cases of COVID are increasing in Macon County so everyone should abide by precaustions.

Regarding Highlands School, Principal Brian Jetter said they had a great first day. He said students, parents, teachers and staff abided by all the new processes and procedures as required to keep students as safe as possible. 

“All of the Highlander family have taken this with the seriousness that it deserves to protect everyone’s health in an enclosed environment. All temperatures were within the normal range for students, parents, teachers, staff, and administration,” he said. “First days always seem to teach us. This year’s first day showed us some things that work, and some things we needed to change, and we have done so.” 

Changes to COVID procedures at Highlands School include: allowing two at a time in the elementary bathrooms by marking off alternating sinks and stalls, and putting signs on the bathroom doors; wedging the entry doors open so no one has to touch the door handles; cancelling morning break for high school. High School students will now pick up their breakfast and take it to class like the elementary and middle school students do. This eliminates two passages in the High School hall.

Jetter said to keep the number in the hall down and allow social distancing, he had staggered break release times but it took too long and ran into lunch prep in the cafeteria; also we figured out which spray tip to use to effectively and efficiently use the electrostatic sprayer, and determine how long it takes to do each room and hall “touchables.”

Highlands Principal Brian Jetter (far right) keeping an eye ion things in the hallway during the first day of school.

New teachers at Highlands School include elementary teacher Pamela Taylor and elementary teacher assistant Diane L. Brailsford.

Elementary teacher Cynthia Henderson resigned as did teacher assistant Joy Griffin.

David Parrish has been named Head Coach for Middle School Boys Soccer; Marci Sherwood and Marlene Fairchild, were hired as non-certified substitutes.

Macon County’s Virtual Academy begins Monday, Aug. 24. VA students are picking up their Ipads this week. The last number of students in each Virtual Academy class is as follows: K-0, 1st-1, 2nd-2, 3rd-5, 4th-2, 5th-1, 6th-6, 7th-10, 8th-9, 9th-3, 10th-4, 11th-3 and 12th-2. Principal Jetter said those figures could change.

Ms. Miller is teaching all elementary virtual classes except for 1st grade which will be taught by Ms. Mason who is teaching one of the two in-person 1st grade classes and the one Virtual Academy first-grader.

Melanie Miller will be teaching Virtual Academy for grades 2nd-6th. It will involve a live Google Meet with each grade level for 30 minutes at the following times: 2nd grade: 8:15-8:45a; 3rd grade: 9-9:30a; 4th grade: 9:45-10:15a; 5th grade: 10:30-11a; 6th grade: 11:15-11:45a. 

She has allotted additional time for live Google Meets with classes depending on the needs from 12:30-2 p AIG students have been allotted the 2-3p slot.

Miller said this is a tentative schedule, but Mr. Jetter requested her do Google Meets with every class every day. 

“As we get going and see how things go, the schedule will be adjusted accordingly. This at least gives us a starting point,” she said.  

Middle and High School Virtual Academy students will take online courses with both their in-person teachers and the North Carolina Virtual Public Schools that will coincide with courses they would take in-person, if available.

By Brittney Lofthouse and Kim Lewicki

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