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School Board orders remote learning through September

Students would go to school in person for one week and then have two weeks of remote learning at home under a Return to Learn plan school administrators presented to the Henderson County School Board Monday. But after hearing multiple concerns about how that would work, the School Board voted to go with Plan C, remote learning only, for at least the first six weeks of the school year.


“Our ultimate commitment is to the health and safety of our students, staff, and their families,” said Board Chair Blair Craven. “It is with this in mind, and with the understanding that plans will be evaluated and refined based on public health in our community, that our board voted to start the school year on a fully remote model.”

Remote learning beginning Aug. 17 will consist of live, virtual whole class sessions teaching new content with grades and assessments, instead of primarily reviewing previously learned material, as teachers did in the spring.

Students will be assigned to teachers and classes with their peers at their schools, and will attend school remotely and simultaneously with their peers on a half-day online schedule with independent assignments for the afternoon. Daily attendance will be taken and student grading expectations will look similar to in-person expectations.

For students in grades K-5, remote learning will occur from 8 a.m.-noon following individual teachers’ classroom schedules. Teachers will communicate their classroom schedules with families in early August. For students in grades 6-12, remote learning will occur from 8 a.m.-noon, following the school’s in-person half day bell schedule. Afternoons will be reserved for virtual small group work or individual support.

Recognizing that some families do not have reliable internet access, the district and the Henderson County Education Foundation are working with local organizations to identify resources to support accessibility – including a map of locations offering free WiFi use for students.

For those families that are still unable to access remote learning digitally, students will be provided with either hotspot access and/or paper and text-based alternative assignments. Families should contact their school’s principal for more information about this option.
The district is committed to providing reliable student meals during implementation of the fully remote learning model. Similar to the Spring 2020 school closure period, HCPS will provide grab-and-go pickup meals at no cost to children ages 2-18 at specific school sites and at scheduled “Meals On the Bus” stops. Schedules for grab-and-go sites and Meals On the Bus routes will be released in early August.

Tech Support: The “Learn from Home Help Desk” has been expanded to offer a dedicated phone line for tech support for students and families in multiple languages. Call 828-435-3480 or email

ESL Family Center: For assistance in Spanish, families may contact the ESL Family Liaison at 828-388-2632.

For the most recent updates on HCPS’ “Return to Learn,” families may visit the webpage, and check out “R2L Weekly” communications posted each Thursday at 5 p.m.

Superintendent Bo Caldwell warned the School Board that enforcing face masks and social distancing throughout the day for all students of all ages is impossible to guarantee.

He cautioned that he would need the authority "to cancel school at a minute's notice" because an outbreak has infected teachers. "If we decide we're on Plan B, (parents may receive) a call saying we do not have enough staff in our school facility to supervise, we don't have enough staff to run the school." At times, buses may not run. "Masks are not going to be on children at all times. Kids are not basically going to be able to keep those things on. Kindergarten kids are going to be kindergarten kids. I can't guarantee you social distancing in Plan B. I can't guarantee that all children are going to wear a mask."

Under Plan B, school buses would have a capacity of only 24 students — about a third of its total seating. Because every school is different, there will be 23 different plans, Caldwell said. "This is going to be more on the principal than they've ever had before."

Under the Plan B school administrators presented Monday, pre-K-2 students would go to school five days a week. Children in grades 3-12 would be divided into thirds. Each group would go for one week and then learn from home for two weeks. Reducing capacity by two-thirds reduces the number on the buses, makes social distancing easier and builds in a quarantine period if needed because of covid-19 exposure.

The School Board received 17 email comments and board members read them out loud. The commenters bombarded the School Board and administrators with questions about how teachers and children can remain safe, what will happen when teachers have to quarantine and whether quarantine time is covered by sick leave. Most commenters opposed a return to classroom teaching. A mom of a special education student urged the county to resume in-person teaching because virtual learning did not work with her child.

"Please do not leave behind our special education students," she said.

"I'm scared to death to retun to class this fall," a 20-year veteran teacher at Rugby Middle School said. "Plan B is a logistical nightmare and for what purpose? ... They will not be able to see a smile of encouragement under my mask." She urged the School Board to open the school year remotely instead of in-person learning.

Who will check temperature of the school children when they enter? one writer asked. How can a single school nurse take on the job for a school with more than 1,000 students?

A mom of two school children said, "Absolutely positively I will not send them to school in the fall. It is not safe for them nor is to safe for their teachers."

A couple with five children said: "We can't risk our children's lives by sending them to school even part-time. One is severely disabled and will not wear a mask."

A retired Henderson County teacher, Becky Ledbetter, said: "Remote learning cannot capture the rich experiene that are achieved in a classroom. However, a virtual option may be necessary to give time for case numbers to decrease and for our county to get a handle on this virus." She urged the board to delay a return to in-person learning until the county has logged two weeks of a decline in cases.

"As a mother of five children in three different schools I cannot imagine sending my child to school under these circumstances."

"Will masks be enforced?" another commenter asked. "If not, why not?"

Public Health Director Steve Smith was on hand to brief the School Board on the coronavirus. "Mr. Smith has been there every step of the way," Caldwell said.

No one has all the answers "but one thing I can be specific about is what our current status is," Smith said.

Smith said:

-- The county is seeing an average of around 20 new cases per day.
-- The county is doing around 1,500 tests per week. As a county we're doing very well in testing capacity.
-- The positive case rate is 14-15 percent of those tested.
-- The county's current number of positive cases is 1,066 and the county has conducted 13,740 tests.
-- Nearly all of the 52 deaths are associated with a long-term care facility. The county has had no deaths of young people or children.

Board member Rick Wood questioned Smith about a study from South Korea saying that middle and high school students are as likely as adults to spread the virus. Smith responded that many of the surveys are short-term and present "a moving target of information."

Smith said he had read the toolkit for reopening schools. "I don't think anything is perfect in our environment but it's a reasonable framework to consider."

"If you can get mask wearing up to 80 percent, you not only can halt transmission you can start reducing it," he said. At 90 percent, "you can stop spread to almost zero."

What's the most dangerous part of the Plan B reopening plan?

If Smith had a 5-year-old daughter, would he send her to school?

"If it was my child and they were perfectly healthy, I personally would not have reservations with some of the plan constructs that have been outlined," he said. "As you know, all families are not created equal" and each family has to make decisions based on their children's health conditions and other factors.

"I don't know that we can have a 5- or 6-year-old with a mask on their face all day," Chairman Blair Craven said. "Can we really truly do this safely, especially thinking about our young ones."

"I think you have to be realistic," Smith said. "You absolutely know young children are not going to be able to be compliant with this. It's just not going to happen. ... Do you wait until there's zero risk? That's a long time off."

Smith said it concerns him that the School Board faces a difficult decision when the county is seeing "increasing rates in cases and that kind of climb." As for a vaccine, "I continue to hear spring at the earliest," and manufacturing more than 300 million doses takes time, too.

"We're one of the higher in the region" in terms of the rate of infection, Smith said.

Are children impacted less?

"I agree that children do not experience severe symptoms the way some adults do," Smith said.