“The bloated Asheville City Schools needs to be heavily doctored and combined into Buncombe County Schools for the desired all-one effect.”
“There is no excuse that these educational professionals [did] not have a concrete and specific plan set in place before voting to send students back.”
New policies from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction recommend all elementary schools open for in-person learning under Plan A, which does not require 6-foot social distancing between students and teachers. Middle and high schools are encouraged to reopen in-person under Plan B, which requires 6-foot social distancing at all times.
While there’s light at the end of the proverbial COVID-19 tunnel, Western North Carolina residents cannot let down their guard. Over the last week, the percent of positive COVID-19 tests has risen to 7.8% in Buncombe County; the county’s daily COVID-19 case counts now average 100 or higher.
On Nov. 22, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,514 new cases of COVID-19 across the state, marking the latest record for the most cases recorded in a single day.
The collaborative effort is meant to quell community fears and rumors about COVID-19 in K-12 school settings, said Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Tony Baldwin. The first report, shared Nov. 5, identified eight cases across six schools.
Public comment on a grant application for federal coronavirus relief identified help with rent, mortgage and utility bills as the county’s greatest need. The Board of Commissioners is set to vote on a plan that would direct the aid, which will likely not be available until January, toward that purpose at its regular meeting of Tuesday, Oct. 6.
Beginning Monday, Oct. 5, elementary schools will have the option to return to the classroom at full capacity. According to the state’s Plan A guidelines, classrooms will have no restrictions on the number of K-5 students allowed, but safety measures including mandatory face coverings, COVID-19 symptom screening and social distancing will still be required.
Virtual schooling is a constant challenge for children with disabilities. School-based resources like speech and physical therapy are hard to deliver remotely — and federal limitations to Medicaid have kept families from filling an essential gap in help for their kids.
Despite a lack of definitive evidence that COVID-19 can spread through heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, residential and commercial property owners are looking for ways to preemptively protect themselves and their customers from potential airborne transmission.
A week into the start of the academic year for Asheville and Buncombe County K-12 schools, local officials remain in open, weekly conversations with district administrators to help manage the spread of COVID-19.
The Asheville and Buncombe County school districts, in partnership with the county health department, have decided how students, parents and staff will be informed of positive COVID-19 cases, should they arise. Both districts will resume instruction on Monday, Aug. 17.
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.
According to preliminary results from surveys sent to families with children in the younger grades, roughly 40% of those attending Buncombe County Schools and 38% of those attending Asheville City Schools are opting for all-virtual classes.
“I feel like our relationships got a lot deeper, because we were holding Zoom meetings in our living rooms. We got to see a different side of [the students].”
Over a dozen speakers ventured out on June 16 to share their thoughts during the COVID-19 era’s first county public hearing. The commissioners subsequently gave unanimous approval to a spending plan little modified from that recommended by County Manager Avril Pinder.
Noting that 34% of North Carolina’s 898 COVID-19 deaths through June 1 have been among African Americans, who make up roughly 22% of North Carolina’s population, NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen emphasized that structural racism has created health disparities in black communities.
“Asheville and Buncombe parents and students need assurance that a return to classrooms will be well-managed and safe.”
As Buncombe County Schools Superintendent Tony Baldwin explained to the county Board of Commissioners during a May 19 meeting, the system’s pandemic response has completely exhausted its $4.6 million rainy day fund — and the schools now project a $2.1 million deficit by the end of the fiscal year.
To date, 34 patients with COVID-19 have visited a Mission facility for treatment, said Dr. William Hathaway, the system’s chief medical officer, during a May 11 press conference. Two individuals with the coronavirus are currently receiving care at Mission, which he said has sufficient capacity of ventilators, personal protective equipment and intensive care beds.