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COVID-19: NC district switching a third of schools to online

A small western North Carolina school district that reopened for face-to-face classes last week has switched more than a third of its schools to online classes because so many employees are at home under quarantine.

Macon County schools, about 300 miles west of Raleigh, is among a minority of North Carolina school districts that decided to open the school year on Aug. 17 with in-person classes instead of remote learning. The district has switched four of its 11 schools to online classes through Sept. 11, with elementary schools deciding Friday if they’ll stay with in-person classes.

“We simply don’t have the staff available now with these quarantines that we can continue on with any face-to-face instruction at the locations that I have mentioned,” Superintendent Chris Baldwin said at Monday’s emergency school board meeting.

Macon County’s challenges could be an example of issues other districts will face when they resume in-person classes.

Schools try to find substitutes

The district has reported six positive COVID-19 cases among students and/or school employees. Baldwin said that, as of Monday, 102 students and 49 school employees are under quarantine because they were potentially exposed to a person who tested positive.

Baldwin said that any person who has been potentially exposed is being required by health officials to stay home for 10 to 14 days even if they test negative. A single middle school student testing positive could cause four teachers to be quarantined, according to Baldwin.

Baldwin said they can’t find enough substitutes to replace all the staff who are under quarantine at the four schools. They also have to find subs for employees who are staying home because their children are under quarantine.

He said their ability to offer face-to-face classes at the remaining schools will depend on how many more people are placed under quarantine.

“We’ve never gone through anything like this,” Baldwin said. “I think you go all the way back to 1918 and the Spanish flu. That’s probably as close as we have.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.

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