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As school gets going, a lingering anxiety

Elementary schools will open their doors and welcome students back over the next few days, and middle and high schools are getting into the groove of remote and in-class learning. Planning by administrators and teachers has been underway for months. 

Still, many worry that all the planning in the world won’t be able to anticipate the challenges and changes that the public school system will have to face in the coming weeks and months. There are just too many families with too many unique circumstances, along with a virus that is still killing people every day.

According to state health officials, as of Monday, Sept. 28, there have been 208,248 people in North Carolina who have tested positive for the coronavirus and 3,445 have died. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 868 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, down from 1,290 the day before.

Four more deaths were reported Monday.

But the teachers, the heart and soul of public education, will step up. As the father of three children who received excellent preparation for college in Haywood’s public schools, and as the husband of a dedicated teacher, and as an avowed advocate for public schools, I know the teachers will go above and beyond. 

But should individual counties and the state be doing more to make sure teachers, staff and students remain safe?

John DeVille is a Macon County teacher and president of the Macon County Association of Educators. He’s also been an outspoken advocate for teachers and public schools, and he’s asking leaders in Macon County to do more. In particular, he wants them to follow the recommendations of the state NCAE and the National Education Association, which include:

• No return to the classroom unless the local positivity rate is at 3 percent or less. 

• More rigorous testing regimens, ideally on-site testing capacity.

• Making N95 masks available on an ongoing basis for all faculty and staff who wish to avail themselves of the high-grade masks. 

DeVille wrote a letter to the Macon School Board recommending it add these additional measures, especially the masks and the on-site testing. His letter said that Highlands-Cashiers Health Foundation — one of several healthcare foundations in our region — was providing the funding for the testing and the masks. What a great use of the money that many of these foundations have.

There is a lot of research that backs up the importance of in-person learning, especially for younger students. It’s nearly impossible to teach those fundamental reading, writing and math skills without being in close personal contact. So it’s probably the right decision to try and get the elementary students back in classes.

However, just one COVID case at one school could affect hundreds of families. The cleaning and other precautions implemented at schools this year are going to help prevent the spread of this virus and other common ailments that typically send people to their doctors or clinics and ultimately home to recover.

But you talk to parents and even staff, and there is still a lot of fear, a lot of worry that things could go bad. Is the risk worth the reward? And is there a way, outside of the regular school budgets, to do more to protect students and staff? If there is, we need to do it now while schools are cranking up.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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