Unlike their counterparts in Asheville City Schools, many students in Buncombe County Schools will start the year face-to-face with teachers inside school classrooms. Under “Plan B Beyond,” K-8 pupils whose families did not previously opt for remote-only learning will attend in-person lessons on alternating days Monday-Friday, Aug. 17-21, while students in grades 9-12 will follow that approach for the first two weeks of the academic calendar.
Most students would then move to remote-only learning through Monday, Sept. 28. Teachers could also offer in-person lessons to small groups or individuals if needed for supplemental instruction. Superintendent Tony Baldwin noted that 39% of the district’s students had already chosen remote-only instruction through at least the end of the first semester, meaning the “B Beyond” schedule would cover the remaining 61%.
The Buncombe County Board of Education was strongly divided on the move, approving it by only one vote. Chair Ann Franklin, along with members Amy Churchill, Max Queen and Peggy Buchanan, voted in favor of the plan, with Vice-Chair Cindy McMahon and members Pat Bryant and Donna Pate in opposition.
Franklin called the choice of how to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic “without a doubt the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life.” However, she said it was critical for teachers to begin the year by establishing relationships with their students in person.
But both Bryant and Pate suggested that bringing students into contact with teachers would be an unacceptable health risk, particularly for vulnerable staff members. “Major League Baseball has changed my mind,” remarked Bryant, in reference to recent outbreaks of COVID-19 within the sport despite extensive safety precautions.
Meanwhile, McMahon said she’d hoped the county would adopt an even more aggressive approach to bringing students back. “The fear is just as much of a pandemic as COVID itself,” she argued. With adherence to the “Three W’s” of mask wearing, waiting 6 feet apart and handwashing, she said, students and staff would be “quite well protected.”