The Sylva Herald, by Dave Russell

The Jackson County Board of Education on Tuesday examined potential plans for back-to-school, a totally different process from any year past because of COVID-19.

Gov. Roy Cooper was expected to last week unveil a statewide plan for returning to school, but has yet to do so. The governor is expected to embrace one of three plans put forward by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

If the state sees progress on reducing COVID-19 cases, Plan A would call for minimal social distancing and full attendance at schools.

If things don’t go so well, Plan B would be more restrictive, with increased social distancing and possible limits on the number of students in the buildings.

Plan C calls for remote learning only.

If plan A or B is the way forward, JCPS has broken the plans into multiple options ranging from most- to least-restrictive.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board agreed that if the governor chooses Plan B, children in grades pre-K-5 would attend daily, middle- and high-schoolers would alternate weeks in school and weeks doing remote study.

Board of Education members heard a plan formulated by two committees – one called Environment and Safety, and one on Remote Learning.

The 27-slide PowerPoint presentation outlined by Assistant Superintendent Jake Buchanan called for many of the protocols the general public is familiar with, should Plan A or B be chosen.

Social distancing, plexiglass barriers installed in reception/waiting areas, flow patterns to maximize social distancing, PPE, hand sanitizer, etc. would be part of the protocols, he said.

Other measures include: 

Students would be asked to bring re-usable water bottles, and each classroom would have cups to use at water fountains. An HVAC company would be called in for increased cleaning and preventative maintenance, and when applicable, HVAC settings would be adjusted to increase the amount of fresh air circulated inside in high density times.

All adults, middle school students, and high school students would wear masks during school unless an exception applies.

Screening questions would be posed at all entrances for students and adults, and staff; students and families would be educated about signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Western Carolina University nursing students would serve in schools to take temperatures and conduct screenings, and certified nursing assistants would be hired to work under school nurses on screening and triage.

Students would eat breakfast and lunch in the classroom to minimize travel within the schools.

Busing 

“The plan we are going with is one kid on each seat, which would allow 22 kids on each bus,” Buchanan said. “The cost estimate is $147,000 per month, or $1.47 million over the school year. Our transportation budget from the state is $1 million.”

A mask policy would be in force for all student bus riders and drivers, regardless of age because of reduced social distancing on buses.

Buses would be disinfected after completion of morning and afternoon routes. Students who fall ill during the day would not be eligible to ride the bus home, and drivers must stay home if sick.

The school system also plans to limit non-essential visitors, meaning no eating lunch with students, parent conferences conducted virtually or with masks and social distancing, no parents delivering students to class.

Mass gatherings such as Meet the Teacher Night would be canceled, and groups outside of JCPS would not use school buildings.

The entire 27-page document is available for subscribers and non-subscribers at www.thesylvaherald.com.