BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (July 20) — During Monday night’s virtual and in-person meeting of the Weakley County School Board, members approved a plan for reopening classes in August, in compliance with CDC recommendations and Gov. Bill Lee’s orders for minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Director of Weakley County Schools Randy Frazier said, “When information and guidance changes so frequently, we will be making decisions that are correct one day and wrong the next. We have proposed a plan we believe places the safety and health of our students and staff as a priority.”
After discussing whether or not to open schools for the fall semester on August 3, as previously planned, or delay reopening until August 17, as recommended by Mr. Frazier, the board voted 7-2 to accept the school director’s recommendation. The only dissenting votes were cast by School Board members Jeff Floyd and Doug Sims, whose constituents were against delaying schools reopening.
Mr. Frazier said, with schools starting August 17, the first day for teachers is July 27.
During the discussion, Floyd stated the majority of calls he received are in favor of reopening schools on August 3. “The teachers at Greenfield are ready to go back to school, and the kids are not social distancing anyway,” Floyd said. He noted students are getting together and socializing, and staying out of school longer would do no good.
Likewise, Sims voiced support of the August 3 opening date.
School Board member John Hatler stressed the importance of safety in reopening schools, saying 30 percent of teachers are over age 50 and more vulnerable to catching the COVID-19 virus.
School Board Chairman Steve Vantrease said, “I can’t in good faith or clear conscience vote for a return to our schools without resources for all the safety measures in place,” said Board Chair Steve Vantrease who voted in favor of changing the reopening date to August 17.
Mr. Frazier gave several reasons for his recommendation for the later start date. He stated the additional two-week delay will allow for teacher training regarding in-person and in-class instruction with social distancing practices. It will also provide the time needed to instruct teachers concerning educating students in a virtual classroom. Frazier said the delay gives more time for ordered materials related to teacher and student safety to be delivered. This includes: face masks for teachers and students, hand-held temperature monitors for teachers, 200 hand sanitizer stations placed at entrances and other key locations, mental health support, rolling garbage cans for collecting waste set outside of classrooms, and plexiglass desk shields to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms where rooms are not large enough to properly social distance students by six feet.
Mr. Frazier stated, with such uncertainty regarding whether or not schools will reopen to in-person or virtual learning via the internet, the reopening plan offers three options for educating students.
The first option is in-person attendance in a Traditional School setting with social distancing and other precautions in place. This involves evaluating each student’s academic achievement and readiness for the next grade to address learning gaps that may have occurred due to school closures. This will help determine a starting point for instruction and will be followed by intervention and remediation and/or enrichment as needed.
Teaching and learning in the traditional setting will incorporate more online tools, especially in grades 6-12, so both the teachers and students will be more prepared in the event of a closure. During the fall, the district will provide laptops for every student in grades 6-12 to aid in this effort.
The second option is Remote Learning. This comes into play in the event schools are closed and all students are at home.
Students will be familiar with their Toolkits or Google Classroom. These tools will be implemented in regular class at the beginning of the school year, so if a closure occurs, students will already know how all this works.
The third option is Monitored Distance Education, which is online curriculum by grade and subject which will be monitored by a teacher for attendance and grading. The instruction is delivered in pre-packaged video segments and through written guidance for activities. For those without access to the internet, a computer device loaded with the program will be provided. Choosing the option of MDE is a semester-long commitment. Students opting for MDE at the beginning of the year are committing to doing so for the entire semester and may return to traditional school after winter break if desired.
Generally, students are required to log in to the system each day to verify attendance and complete work. Teachers will check in and meet with students, and a parent/guardian if necessary, with a virtual face-to-face via meeting at least once per week.
Mr. Frazier said approximately 2,000 computers are on order to provide students without computers and/or internet service to have access to virtual instruction, in the event schools are closed again because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Mr. Frazier, meals will either be served in school cafeterias or classrooms, depending on the situation. The plan calls for serving breakfasts and lunches from a cart in the classrooms or in the cafeteria. Meals will be pre-bagged to eliminate students handling items. Students will need to utilize identification badges, with barcodes, for meal counting – just as they did last school year..
In accordance with Weakley County Health Department guidelines, if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, or was exposed to someone with the virus, the quarantine period is 14 days from the onset of symptoms. The Health Department has the authority to enforce compliance.
Seating charts will be created and strictly followed for those students riding on buses. Face coverings will be available and are required during the duration of the route. Parents are encouraged to transport their children when possible.
Hatler asked about the status of TSSAA sports. Mr. Frazier stated no decisions have been made, as yet, but should be announced soon.
BY DAVID FISHER