Shoring up plans for start of school

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Clay County Schools Supt. Dale Cole

A survey sent to parents of Hayesville students is helping school leadership craft a plan for daily operations when school opens Aug. 17. 

“We are crunching numbers from the parent survey and calling additional homes that did not answer the survey,” said Superintendent Dale Cole. “Our Leadership Team is meeting Wednesday morning to put together a recommendation for our school board. The goal is to get a recommendation to the board by Friday afternoon and let them have a few days to look it over and answer questions before they vote on it on July 30.”

While the team is still working on defining the plan, it may be necessary to blend options to get the right balance.

“We definitely want to have at a minimum some type of AB schedule that would allow all K-8 students to have school face to face at least two days per week. High school has more unique challenges when it comes to scheduling. We are looking at what is possible, but full virtual for the high school is a possibility,” he said. “Of course, with the stroke of the governor’s pen we could go virtual state-wide in all grade levels, so we have to be prepared for that as well. I truly feel for our families during these times.”

Parents will know what to expect as far as daily routines for the children in elementary, middle and high schools by Aug. 3, he said. 

Regarding the survey, Cole said the school received 763 responses out of a total of about 1,300 students. Parents with more than one child in school were asked to return only one survey.

“As many of our parents have multiple children, we feel very good about the response rate from our parents,” he said noting that the school is continuing to reach out to those who did not respond via phone calls.

When asked how many plan to return to in-person education vs. homeschooling and long distance learning, almost 70 percent plan to send their children to school.

Here are the results:

• 68.9 percent of parents plan to send their children to school if we have face to face instruction.

• 27.9 percent plan to keep their children home and take advantage of the virtual options we provide.

• 3.1 percent of respondents, or 24 total parents, said they would be withdrawing their students from our school system.

He said the survey proved beneficial in planning the upcoming school years.

“In most cases our planning comes down to math. We know how many students we can fit on our buses and we know how many students can fit in each classroom in order to maintain 6 feet of distance. We want to provide face to face instruction for as many kids as we can whose parents want that,” Cole said. “In order to maximize that number, we need to know how many plan to send their kids to school, and how many of those need to ride the bus. Once we have those numbers, the decision comes down to what is mathematically possible with the space, people, and resources that we have at our disposal, while still following the requirements set forth by Gov. Cooper’s executive order and our local Clay County Health Department.”

Requirements will include safety procedures for transporting students.

“Students will be required to wear masks while riding buses. They will also be required to wash their hands with hand sanitizer when they enter the bus. All students will have to sit one per seat unless they live in the same household. Students from the same household can sit up to three per seat,” he said. “All parents that wish their students to ride buses will be required to sign an attestation that states they will not send their child to school if their child has had close contact  (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or longer) in the last 14 days with someone that has tested positive, or if they have been advised by the health department to quarantine. When they exit the buses at school, students will have their temperature checked and any student exhibiting a temperature above 100.4 degrees will be quarantined and their parents called to pick them up.”

When asked to describe the most difficult aspects of balancing children’s health and education during this pandemic, Cole said it involves making hard decisions.

“Any choice that balances a child’s health versus their education is by definition hard. But, as educators we are also parents, and we know that everyone is at home making these same choices, including choices between going to work to pay the rent and being able to pay for childcare while you are doing it,” he said. “These are hard decisions and we do not take them lightly. There aren’t any great options, so we are looking at what is possible for our community and doing our best to balance the risk versus the reward.”

As everyone grapples with the workings of the new school year amid the pandemic, Cole encourages patience and understanding.

“Please have some grace and patience with one another. Public school systems are really not designed to do what we are trying to do. We are designed to collaborate, learn from one another through close conversations, and to share everything in order to maximize the use of the resources allocated to us by the taxpayers. Those things aren’t possible in this environment. However, if we all accept as a given that we are a team focused on doing the best we can to meet the needs of each student, and I am including parents/guardians in this, then we cannot go wrong,” Cole said. “If we continue to communicate with one another with that mission in mind, we will make it happen together for our kids. I’ve never seen one problem solved by people bashing each other on Facebook. Clay County is a great place for kids and I have no doubt that we will make it through this and come out stronger on the other side of it.”