In a split decision the Yancey County School Board voted Monday evening to reopen on-site learning. Beginning September 29th K-5 students will return to classes 4 days per week with a modified schedule dismissing at 11:45 a.m. Mondays will be drop/pick up day and teacher planning. Virtual classes begin at 12:30 and dismiss at 2:45 pm. Grades 6 through 12 will begin on-site classes October 6th. Grades 6-12 will attend in two clusters Tuesday/Wednesday and Thursday/Friday. Mondays are for remote learning and teacher planning. For 9 through 12 two Mondays per month will be half virtual days to allow for faculty professional development. The plans will follow specific health and safety protocol and guidelines for COVID-19. (see below for more complete details of the plans).
Before the plan was introduced the board heard a report from Margie Stebbeds about last week’s teacher survey. Stebbeds said there was a good response from the teachers and went on to list the teachers’ positive and negative responses to Plan B. Positives included accountability, hands on learning, relationships with the students, hot meals and normalcy. Negatives are safety of teachers and students, ability to social distance, simultaneous teaching of in class and virtual. Superintendent Kathy Amos thanked all the teachers for participating in all the recent surveys.
At this point in the meeting board member Edwin Fortner introduced a motion to reopen the schools, reading a lengthy document with his suggested plan. Wade Dahlberg seconded the motion. Norb McKinney said the motion was made out of order that they had not yet heard a scheduled Health Team update. School Attorney Donny Laws said they would need to modify the agenda. Mckinney said he would prefer to have the original agenda. Jeanne Tyner also wanted to stay with the original agenda. Fortner, Dahlberg and Board Chair Angie Weatherman went on to pass the changed agenda. Norb McKinney went on to state that he felt that the numbers they were receiving on failure rate were misleading. He felt like they were “not a good indicator of what is going on.” Edwin Fortner said the “virtual instruction is unsatisfactory for these children. K through 5 are not being successful.” Jeanne Tyner said, “It’s what you don’t see coming that will get you.” Tyner also felt like the plan left insufficient time for teacher planning. She also said, “Some parents are very concerned about catching the virus.” Tyner feels strongly that the plan is “not equitable and fair to all students”. She feels that it is unfair to the virtual students that have been having morning classes to be moved to afternoon classes. The discussion at times became heated with Norb McKinney asking, “Who wrote the proposal?” Edwin Fortner replied that he did and had spent the weekend working on it “because parents want their children seated.” Wade Dahlberg said, “We can’t hold 70% hostage because of 30%. We are giving them a fair education.” Tyner said, I think it is really sad. We ask teachers for their opinion and they gave it and now we have disregarded all they said. That’s a shame.” Norb Mckinney said, “I don’t think this plan alleviates any of my concerns about public health. Therefore I don’t think it is a good plan.” Dahlberg said, “I understand teachers are good and working hard but we are not giving them the tools to be successful.”
Some parts of the proposed plan were modified, including the original proposed start date of 9/21 moved to 9/29 and some times adjusted. Then once again Edwin Fortner introduced the motion, Dahlberg seconded and the board voted 3 to 2 to reopen in class instruction. There was loud clapping and shouts of approval from a group of citizens, who due to social distancing requirements, were watching on a monitor outside the room. Voting for the proposal were Angie Weatherman, Edwin Fortner and Wade Dahlberg. Voting against were Jeanne Tyner and Norb Mckinney. Tyner said, “I want to say again, it is not fair for virtual having only afternoon instruction. It’s just not equitable at all. There is bound to be a way to make it equitable. It’s not fair to not have morning instruction.” Norb McKinney said, “I am thoroughly disgusted with what we just voted. I think there will be ramifications. I commend you for conviction and passion.”
Kristen Buchanan then reported that they had been working with the health department. They have all protocols and procedures in place. “The nursing staff is working hard to ensure students and teachers are safe, doing everything they can do,” said Buchanan, Training is ongoing to make sure these kids are going to be safe when they walk through the door.”