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Avery and Watauga County Schools Prepare for State Guidance on Reopening Schools; Lees-McRae Focusing on Fall Semester

By Harley Nefe

Avery County Schools Superintendent Dan Brigman spoke at a meeting on June 25 discussing what the education system could look like in the upcoming school year, which begins August 17.

On July 1, the North Carolina Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction are prepared to release operational plans for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. The DPI has released three plans ranging from normal class schedules with increased health monitoring and building cleaning to entirely at-home remote learning.

“After Wednesday’s announcement, I’ll have a planning team get together on the second of July to start going through the intricacies of how this will look with the opening of schools,” Brigman said.

The three different scenarios of levels of operation to reopen that could be implemented for schools include Plan A: Minimal Social Distancing, Plan B: Moderate Social Distancing or Plan C: Remote Learning.

In Plan A: Minimal Social Distancing, safety precautions will be placed throughout schools with all students in attendance. Safety precautions could include changes such as frequent sanitation, one-way traffic in hallways, cafeterias limiting the number of individuals and covering meals, among other things.

Plan B: Moderate Social Distancing would consist of 50% occupancy throughout schools. However, this could either mean 50% of the headcount of a school’s population or 50% of the total occupancy of buildings. Either way, schools would stagger students in participation. 50% of students would be on campus one day, while the other 50% of students would remain home.

“Bussing is a question and a bit of concern. How do we bus kids and maintain social distancing?” Brigman said.

Brigman said potential implementations could force Avery County Schools to put only 10 students on a bus and expand bus routes, which would result in Avery County needing at least 75 bus routes to address the students. 

“And we’re blessed in Avery County to have smaller schools in terms of population, fewer kids,” Brigman said. “I can’t imagine Mecklenburg or Wake county trying to deal with this.”

In Plan C: Remote Learning, campuses would be totally closed, and remote learning would continue throughout the school year.

Watauga County Schools Director of Communication Garrett Price confirmed the July 1 announcement.

“A few weeks ago, they (NC DPI) outlined three possibilities, Plan A, B, and C. Since then, we’ve assembled a steering committee to take stakeholder input and plan how any of those reopening options would work for us locally. We also conducted a parent survey that ended up with almost 3,000 responses,” Price said.

Lees-McRae College’s Vice President for Planning and External Relations Blaine Hanson also spoke at the meeting discussing the private college’s current plans for the upcoming semester.

Lees-McRae College is planning for in-person instruction in the fall when the semester begins August 17.

“It will look very different, though, from what it has in the past,” Hanson said.

In-person instruction will end by Thanksgiving, and by Thanksgiving, students will be asked to go back to their homes and finish off the semester remotely with final exams.

“We eliminated a lot of the breaks throughout the semester to keep people here to limit traveling back and forth to campus,” Hanson said. “As far as on-campus, it will look very different.”

Classroom sizes are being limited, and furniture is being moved around to accommodate social distancing guidelines. There may also be staggered meal times in the dining halls and limited transportation.