The Sylva Herald, by Dave Russell

The Jackson County Board of Education voted Tuesday to send pre-K-5th grade students to school four days a week. The board decided to move those students from Plan B to Plan A starting Oct. 5, with in-person teaching every day except Wednesday.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced last week that school districts could choose to transition elementary school students into Plan A starting Oct. 5.

Districts still have the option to choose Plan B, a mix of in-person and remote learning, or Plan C, remote learning. Schools must allow parents the option of all-remote learning for students.

Cooper did not announce a timeline or plan for allowing other grade levels to return for full-time in-person instruction. 

“We have been working on developing a plan that would move Jackson County Public Schools into alignment with Plan A for pre-K–5th grade,” Interim Superintendent Tony Tipton told the board. 

Neither clusters nor outbreaks of COVID have struck the schools so far.

Under Plan A schools must still follow specific guidelines, such as wearing masks, washing hands often and maintaining social distancing.

“It is still required that we follow Plan B while on school buses,” he said. “There will be one student in each seat, if it’s a family, a brother and sister can share a seat. We believe we’re OK right now with the buses we’re running.”

Moving to Plan A required the school board to approve a calendar change.

A staff development day set for Oct. 5 will move to Wednesday, Oct. 7. That Wednesday will remain a mandatory workday.

“Recently we asked parents to let us know if they want to remain on remote learning or return to school at the beginning of the second nine weeks,” Tipton said. “We are suggesting that these students who want to return from remote to face-to-face, they come back Oct. 5th.”

Remote-only students in the county’s pre-K-8 schools could return for face-to-face instruction as well.

“To minimize students changing back and forth between remote and face-to-face, we are requiring parents decide now for the entire school year,” Tipton said. “We understand various family circumstances may change between now and June which may require a change in this option.”

The schools would address those situations on a case by case basis, he said.

“Plan A means we will no longer offer an A-B schedule in pre-K–5th grades,” Tipton said. “We will be only four days a week, or full-time remote.” 

Middle and high school students will still be on an A/B schedule, attending class two days a week and learning remotely three days.

“Wednesday will continue to be a remote learning day,” he said. “Currently we still have a large number of families requesting to remain on remote learning. Our teachers simply cannot have school five days a week full time and still offer quality remote learning at the same time. Our teachers are great, but they are not superhuman.”

In an effort to minimize exposure, schools will keep students in the same small group whenever teachers are doing group activities, such as reading groups, he said.

Tipton pointed to the athletic programs, which work in a pod system. Smaller groups limit the number of students who could be exposed by a positive classmate.

The board voted unanimously to adopt Tipton’s proposals to move to Plan A and change the calendar.