NEWLAND — The Avery County Board of Education held a special open session meeting on Monday, July 27, in which it approved moving to a four-day instruction schedule to begin the 2020-2021 school year in order to accommodate Wednesdays as a weekly deep cleaning day.
On July, 14, Governor Roy Cooper announced that North Carolina public schools would be reopening for in-person instruction this coming school year by utilizing a blended approach that would give students and families the option to take online classes in order to protect themselves from COVID-19. The governor also mandated that all students and staff wear face coverings and social distance as much as possible, as well as offered assurance of all schools being disinfected and cleaned on an ongoing basis.
Since the governor made this announcement, leaders within the school system have been meeting on a regular basis to prepare for the upcoming semester and to establish the Avery Virtual Academy (AVA). Additionally, the state has since rescinded the 50-percent capacity requirement under specifications for Plan B.
Superintendent Dr. Dan Bringman wasted no time updating the board on what actions he and the school system recommend that it take to best prepare for an unprecedented semester. A survey had recently been taken gauging parent input on various considerations the school system should address.
“Taking into consideration survey results from various stakeholders and concerns for the ongoing safety and sanitation protocols, my recommendation is that the board allow us to utilize Wednesdays for deep cleaning, remote learning and office hours for parent contact. This model is in support of Plan B and will consist of a four-by-one approach to include four days of instruction for all students,” Brigman said.
Brigman added that all students and staff will be required to recognize social distancing guidelines, space utilization will limit occupancy per room, visitors to campus will be restricted to the front office only and will be required to wear face coverings, and bus routes are currently under review to provide safe transportation for all students. Social distancing may require extended dual routes in the mornings and afternoon, which may result in a shorter instruction day. Parents and students will be notified of pickup and dropoff times as soon as they are set.
“I feel certain that we are taking the best approach for opening school and will continue to make these decisions in the best interest of all students. We will continue to evaluate the system as we expedite our first grading period with the possibility of revisiting the structure between now and October 19. I will reiterate that this is a moving target and is subject to change at a moment’s notice based on information given to us from the governor’s office and the state board of education,” Brigman said.
In regard to remote learning, Brigman said that if high school students choose to go the virtual route, it will be a semester-long commitment and will be a nine-week commitment for K-8 students.
Meanwhile, the Williams YMCA and WAMY Community Action are partnering to provide child care and activities for students of working families on Wednesdays. The county has also ordered 4,000 masks, which ACS noted as enough to supply two for each student and staff member. Additional masks are coming in from the state as well. Brigman said that each student will have a stock of five face coverings and they will be washable and reusable.
“We’re covering our bases in terms of preparedness. There is no easy way to skin this cat, as you alluded to, Mr. Greene. It’s going to take patience from everyone,” Brigman said.
Brigman reiterated that the school system’s remote learning plan is not the same one it used beginning in March to close the most recent school year. Brigman said the plan is one of accountability that includes thoughtful lessons, academic accomplishments and achievements that are graded by teachers and students.
“Our remote learning plan looks nothing like it did last spring when we were in survival mode just to get the year behind us. This is a new day with a new plan under way, and I feel certain with this one-day remote learning it will help us look at that plan and refine it for those students that need that remote assistance during that day out of school,” Brigman added. “Remote learning is not just technology based. Remote learning could be work given to students to go complete that day out of school and bring back in for grading on Thursdays.”
Lastly, students will most likely be given a break from wearing face coverings during outside recreation time at the high school track and other such facilities through the school system at teachers’ discretion. Dismissal times will likely be affected as well, as bus drivers work additional routes. A meal will be provided to students Tuesday afternoon to supplement for Wednesdays.
Students and families can enroll in online learning by clicking to www.averyschools.net.