Asheville City Schools changes course on remote learning

Gene Freeman
REMOTE CONTROL: At the recommendation of Gene Freeman, superintendent of Asheville City Schools, the Asheville City Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt online-only learning for the first nine weeks of the school year. Photo courtesy of Asheville City Schools

With less than a month remaining before the start of the school year on Monday, Aug. 17, Asheville City Schools has altered its approach to resuming instruction. Instead of bringing students back to the classroom under the Plan B model outlined by Gov. Roy Cooper, as had been announced on July 14, the Asheville City Board of Education voted unanimously to follow the remote-only Plan C for at least nine weeks at a July 23 special called meeting.

The move came after a presentation by the Asheville City Association of Educators, a professional group for school employees, which featured data and comments from surveys of local teachers. Of 276 respondents, over half said they did not feel safe conducting face-to-face instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

ACAE also shared a solidarity statement signed by over 150 K-6 teachers and staff. That letter, written by teachers Susanna Cerrato and Jessica Jackson, stated that the signers would refuse to return to campus under Plan B. “We feel there is a greater risk of trauma to both staff and students if we attempt to navigate learning in such a high-risk and rigid environment, divorced completely from ‘normal school,’” the letter read.

ACS Superintendent Gene Freeman, who took up his post on June 1, noted that he would have preferred to start the school year with children in classrooms, adding that many of the system’s Black students had missed substantial periods of instruction after school moved online this spring. “But if I have teachers that are fearful … I don’t want to create a classroom environment to bring children back where everybody’s going to feel uncomfortable,” he said.

Freeman emphasized that he would reevaluate the remote-only approach after six weeks and push to bring students back as soon as possible. He said teachers should use the remote learning period to practice safety procedures for the return of in-person instruction.

“I want my staff safe, but I can’t just think about me or my family. I have to think about this district as a whole, and I keep hearing this,” Freeman said, gesturing at a large “Black Students Matter” banner behind him. “But I don’t see a lot of action for it.”

Buncombe County halts all community COVID-19 testing sites

Buncombe County has temporarily stopped all community-based COVID-19 testing after clinical health partner Western North Carolina Community Health Services announced it would cease to participate.

“You have to understand what goes into running a testing site,” said Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, Buncombe’s interim health director, at a July 23 press conference. “From the logistics of determining your site location and laying it out, to registering patients, to collecting insurance information, to collecting and packaging the specimens, running the specimens, billing insurance companies, getting back the lab results — it’s an intense process. Unfortunately, it got to be too much for our clinical partner’s capacity.”

Since June 30, approximately 850 COVID-19 tests have been administered at county-run sites each week, Mullendore said. Tests were then sent to Burlington-based LabCorp for processing, but national testing supply shortages have recently led to wait times of a week or longer for results.

The county plans to resume community testing sites in early August. To streamline the process, Mullendore said, health officials plan to contract with a different laboratory and implement online preregistration for those seeking tests.

In other news

  • Buncombe County reported 300 new cases of COVID-19 in the last week, bringing the county’s total to 1,292 as of July 23. The acceleration is largely due to community spread, Mullendore said. Of the total cases, 57% have occurred in individuals ages 18-49.
  • FIND Outdoors announced the Cradle to Grave trail race will be conducted virtually Sept. 5-12. Participants will be able to complete the 10K or 30K race from any location.
  • Pardee UNC Health Care will hold its “Living with Breast Cancer” program virtually. The free, four-week session will be held every Tuesday in August from 6-8 p.m. via live webinar.

With additional reporting by Molly Horak

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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