Board Looks At School Return Options-Brevard NC


Last updated 6/17/2020 at 4:33pm

With the scheduled reopening of school less than two months away, Transylvania County school officials are beginning to review and prepare for various reopening options.

Monday evening Superintendent Jeff McDaris told the Transylvania County Board of Education that he had received a guidebook on how the schools might reopen in August.

“It’s a pretty robust document,” said McDaris.

There are three options – A, B and C – to reopening North Carolina schools to students on Monday, Aug. 17.

McDaris said Option A is “all in,” with all students returning to the physical classrooms. Schools would have to follow through with all of the proper sanitizing procedures, such as hand washing, cleaning desks, etc.

“There’s a lot of work with Option A,” said McDaris.

Option C has no students returning to the classroom initially, with all learning done remotely.

Option B is a hybrid that contains a host of scenarios, such as some students coming to schools on A days and others on B days.

“That is my least preferred, quite frankly,” said McDaris of Option B. “Option B, if that is the choice, we would make it work. But I have to be completely honest. That is a very difficult scenario and I believe that opinion is shared by every other superintendent who I have talked to in the state.”

McDaris said he personally prefers Option A if it is safe enough for students to return to school and the school system would defer to the directives from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“We will be ready regardless,” said McDaris of the options. “We will be safe and we are excited for when school does open back up. We miss our students and we know that they miss school.”

Board Vice Chair Ron Kiviniemi said the public needs to understand that the decision as to which option will be chosen will be made by the state, not the local school board, and local school boards will have to follow state guidelines.

“Very little of that will be under the control of local Boards of Education,” said Kiviniemi.

Board member Courtney Domokur asked if there is any timeline as to when an option for reopening will be selected. She said parents would like to know so that they can make plans for the fall and teachers would like to know so that they can begin preparing lessons for work in the classroom or virtually.

McDaris said he was not sure of when a decision would be made, but that he and other superintendents across the state were “ready for a decision yesterday.”

Board Attorney Kris Caudle said a smaller document of just 13 pages has been released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, and that document indicates a decision would be made soon.

“We are anticipating to know more on July 1,” said Caudle.

Transportation would be one of the most challenging areas to handle if schools reopen under either Option A or B.

Alan Justice, who is the head of athletics, transportation and safe and healthy schools, said the current recommendation is for one student in every other seat on a school bus.

“For a 72-passenger bus, that is 12 kids,” said Justice. “For a 66-passenger bus, that’s closer to eight or nine kids, and for a 54-passenger bus, which I have a few of those, you’re looking at eight kids. That’s going to be a challenge.”

He also said there is a recommendation that students be screened before they get on the bus. He said two options are taking students’ temperatures or having parents fill out a health form every day.

“I don’t know what that is going to look like,” said Justice. “We’ve got a lot of things to look at.”

Kiviniemi said that after reading the guidelines, “They are particularly problematic for rural school districts.”

“You are correct,” said McDaris. “It’s going to be a challenge, particularly with transportation for rural counties, and I will say, in particular, the rural counties that are in the mountains because the topography here does not lend itself for fast bus travel.”

Kiviniemi said if students have to be screened before getting on the bus, it could “necessitate having a monitor on each bus to do that.”

Kiviniemi asked if school officials have received any indication the federal or state government has any COVID-19 funds designated to help with those expenses.

McDaris said they had not. He said they have received funding to deal with issues related to COVID-19, “but there are other things we have to do with that funding as well.”

He said thermometers that read forehead temperatures are effective but also expensive, and the school system has applied for financial assistance from organizations such as the Dogwood Health Found-ation.

The school system is waiting to see if it will receive any financial assistance and which option is going to be implemented.

Board member Alice Wellborn asked Justice how many bus routes would have to be run to get everyone to school.

Justice said he did not know because it would depend on if schools would be open to all students or just half of the students coming on A and B days.

“All of that is still on the table,” said Justice.

Board Chair Tawny McCoy asked since transportation funding is based on the number of student riders and the state is going to limit the number of riders if the state is going to provide additional funding for transportation.

McDaris said some regulations regarding expenditures have been relaxed since COVID-19 emerged and the schools shut down.

He said two of the criteria used to determine allocations for transportation – efficiency and miles traveled – would work in contradiction with one another.

Under the proposed recommendations, efficiency would decrease but mileage would increase.

“We may, depending upon the option, have to run many more routes than we normally do, which could add a lot of time to the transportation day,” said McDaris.

“And gas,” added Wellborn.

“Again, the only thing that we’ve been guaranteed, so far, is that we will receive the same funding as we received this year,” said Justice.

While the school system is still waiting to hear which option will be chosen for reopening schools academically, Phase One of athletics began Monday with student-athletes allowed to participate in voluntary workouts.

Justice said parents had to sign a consent form for their children to participate.

He said no physicals have been given recently, so athletes who passed their physicals previously have been allowed to extend them for one year.

However, if an athlete has asthma or a heart condition, they have to receive clearance from a doctor.

Justice said athletes are to wear masks when they are not physically exerting them-selves and must bring their own water bottles.

The water bottles are filled by the coaches while the athlete holds his own bottle.

The schools are providing face coverings for athletes who do not have them.

Justice said there are guidelines as to how many people can be at a practice. Outdoor venues, such as the football stadium, softball field and baseball field at Brevard High, are limited to 25 people, including coaches. Indoor venues, such as the old gym and new gym at Brevard High, are limited to 10 people, including coaches.

Justice said workouts are limited to 90 minutes with a 60-minute limit on cardiovascular work. Workouts are limited to four per week.

Any weightlifting must be done outside.

Justice said the athletes are screened every day and given a wrist band to wear if they pass the health check.

“They are following those to a T,” said Justice of adhering to the guidelines. “We are doing the right thing and our coaches are doing the right thing.”

Justice said “it was kind of weird” to attend practices and see athletes and coaches keep a distance from each other.

The biggest positive he gleaned from the workouts has been that the athletes and coaches have been able to see one another, something that hasn’t occurred for three months.

Board member Marty Griffin said Brevard High could have roughly 100 athletes on campus if all of the practice venues are being used simultaneously.

He asked how one trainer could screen all of those athletes.

“It’s a time crunch,” said Justice.

However, he said practice times are being staggered and some teams are only working out twice a week.

Justice said that once coaches receive the proper screening training from Pardee Hospital, then they too would be able to screen athletes.


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