Highlands School to go virtual week of Jan. 4

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, the board OK’d Highlands School Principal Brian Jetter’s request to make the week after Christmas break virtual.

The first day back in January is Monday, Jan. 4 – a teacher workday, which means no students were to be in school. 

Tuesday, Jan 5, Wednesday, Jan 6, and Thursday, Jan 7, were supposed to be in-person student days and Friday, Jan 8, a remote day like usual.

“I requested to change the school calendar to make those three days of in-person school remote days. That means the whole first week in January would be remote, like we did after Labor Day,” said Jetter.

With this change Mon, Jan 11, will be the first in-person day.

“The calendar change means the school population will be 11 days away from New Year’s Eve gatherings and 17 days from Christmas gatherings,” said Jetter. “I think it is prudent to keep students and teachers (adults) separated long enough to get through the family gathering ‘potential’ quarantined days, especially after what seems to be happening with the Thanksgiving surge in the USA right now according to the CDC.”

On Monday, Jan 11, the plan is to resume the present schedule of Monday through Thursday in-person, and Friday remote.

“I’m trying to distance in-person learning from the predicted (by the CDC) surge from Christmas family gatherings and New Year’s gatherings to protect both employees and students,” said Jetter.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Highlands School’s 9th COVID case was reported. 

With COVID19 cases on the rise in Macon County, COVID was discussed at length at the Monday night’s Board of Education meeting.

According to MCS Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin, just on Monday, the Macon County School system had a total of 10 students who tested positive for COVID19. 

Seven of the two were Franklin High School students, one at Highlands School, and two at Macon Middle School. In addition to the 10 students who tested positive, another 85 students are currently quarantined due to possible exposure. Since November 16, a total of 30 students have tested positive for COVID19 and a total of 206 have needed to quarantine. 

There are currently seven staff members positive for the virus; three at Cartoogechaye, one at East Franklin Elementary, one at Franklin High School, and two at Macon Middle School. There are a total of 19 staff quarantined throughout the district. Since November 16, there have been a total of 23 staff members who have tested positive and 53 who have had to quarantine. 

Those totals include Tuesday’s count whern  MC Schools was notified that positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at Franklin High School-2, Macon Middle School-1, South Macon Elementary School-1, and Highlands School-2.

Dr. Baldwin noted that while COVID19 cases within the school system have improved since the board met last week, the total number of cases for Macon County increased considerably over the weekend. 

From Friday at 4 p.m. to Monday at 4 p.m., Macon County Schools reported 45 new COVID19 cases, bringing the total active number of positive cases to 123. HCA Public Relations Director Nancy Lindell reported that as of Tuesday morning, Angel Medical Center has four individuals hospitalized due to COVID19. 

“We are seeing an uptick in positive cases throughout the community and I have expressed some concerns with school being in session face-to-face right now,” Macon County Public Health Director Kathy McGaha said Monday night during the Board of Education meeting. “Though most of the transmissions we are seeing in the community is not in the schools, we are seeing an increase in the positivity rate. We have come to the conclusion that we are going to take this on a day-by-day basis to see if we need to go virtual.”

On December 7, Dr. Baldwin said that he did not anticipate any changes for students for the Spring semester other than changes to virtual learning at Franklin High School and the Highlands School request, however, due to concerns about rapidly increasing case numbers, Dr. Baldwin said the board may need to consider beginning the next semester with virtual learning. Any changes will be announced.

McGaha noted that with 45 new cases on Monday, that is the largest single-day increase the health department has seen. “I have some serious concerns and so does the county’s medical director Dr. Dewhurst who is here with me.”

Macon Middle School spent half of last week in virtual learning due to a lack of staff and exposure at the school and this week, Cartoogechaye Elementary is virtual for the same reason. 

“We will not hesitate to close one or more schools depending on the number of cases at any of our school locations,” said Dr. Baldwin. “In additional to Highlands being approved to conduct remote instruction the first week of school after the Christmas break, we will stay in contact with the health department and should we see an increase in cases over Christmas break, I hope that parents will understand that we may open schools on January 5 as a district in remote instruction.”

Dr. Baldwin said school districts across the state are considering the same option due to a rise in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday, which is anticipated to only worsen after Christmas. 

By Brittney Lofthouse and Kim Lewicki

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