Distance learning

CHROMEBOOKS WILL COME IN HANDY— While schools will reopen in August under new safety guidelines, parents who aren’t comfortable sending their children to school will be able to opt for distance learning. Haywood County Schools has enough laptops for every. Pictured is Keeta Blankenship with the Haywood County Schools IT department unloading a pallet of Chromebooks.

Distance learning

Students will return to the classroom in August, just one month from now, but will do so in a dramatically different way.

Class size will be limited by students going to school on alternating days or weeks.

Students must be kept 6 feet apart at all times during the school day.

Masks will be required at all times in all grades, as well.

Meanwhile, families who don’t feel comfortable sending children back to school can opt for remote learning. Every school system is required to provide a guided remote learning curriculum for families who chose that option.

These are just some of the highlights from Tuesday’s long-awaited announcement by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper on whether and how school would resume in August.

“We know there will always be some risk with in-person learning,” Cooper said. “But there is much risk in not going back to in-person school. We know schools provide so much more than just academic lessons.”

While COVID is still raging across the country, renewed efforts to double down on social distancing and mask wearing have leveled off the spike in North Carolina.

“The good news is we now know how to slow the spread,” Cooper said.

But whether reopening plans stay on track depends on the collective responsibility of everyone doing their part, he said.

“The start of school is a month away, and we know a lot can happen with the virus in that time,” Cooper said, imploring people to be responsible for children’s sake.

Cooper also announced Tuesday that the state will remain under phase II reopening restrictions at least until Aug. 7 in hopes of preventing a case spike that would jeopardize school reopening.

Haywood County


The reopening option announced by Cooper is known as “option B.” It was one of three options previously laid out by the state: option A was a full-blown reopening, option C was remote learning, and option B being a modified plan where students track in and out on alternating days to limit class size.

Earlier this summer, some Haywood County school board members went on record supporting a full-blown return to school in August — with full classrooms and full busses from day one.

But as cases mounted across the state and nation in recent weeks, the risks of doing so became more apparent.

“We want to give kids a sense of normalcy and to be able have contact with a teacher, but the number one priority is the safety of our staff and students,” Assistant Superintendent Jill Barker said Tuesday. “We have to find a way to balance that.”

Haywood County School leaders have been preparing for various reopening scenarios for weeks — including this one — but will now springboard from broad strokes into concrete details.

“We have been trying to make plans based on ‘what if’s’, and now that we have a final decision there will be a lot of action,” Barker said.

Hearing from par

ents and students

There’s a major component Haywood County Schools still needs to craft its modified reopening plan: input from parents, students and teachers.

The school system had a survey ready to roll out as soon as Cooper’s announcement came.

Some questions are logistical, like whether parents are likely to send their children back to school or choose the remote learning option.

The survey will also glean critical insight into how remote learning can be improved — not only for those students who chose the remote learning option, but also in the event remote learning becomes a fallback at some portion of the year.

“We value how parents feel about the remote learning experience their kids had, and also students. They are the ones that lived this. We wanted to make sure their voice on this is captured,” Barker said.

Individual classes, schools or even the entire school system could revert to remote learning at any time based on local discretion, with school systems given flexibility to adjust based on COVID trends in their own communities.

Barker said the school system will continue to consult closely with Haywood County Health and Human Services to make the best decisions as the year progresses.

“This is a constantly moving target,” Barker said.

See this story on www.themountaineer.com for a public announcement from Haywood County Schools on what’s known so far about the local reopening plan, and stay tuned for future coverage.

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