BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (July 30) — A top item of discussion during Thursday night’s County Commission meeting involved the reopening of Weakley County schools.
When asked about the status of preparations for the upcoming school year necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Director of Weakley County Schools Randy Frazier listed some of the major problems.
He stated the recent surge in COVID-19 cases is very concerning, not only because of the health risks and loss of lives but also because it might prevent schools from reopening August 17, 2020 as planned. Frazier said the first day of school is already two weeks behind the original start date of August 3, and if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, it may set the reopening of schools back even further or prevent in-school classes from taking place altogether.
“We just need people to practice safety measures because the number of COVID cases determines when we can reopen,” Frazier said.
Another concern expressed by Frazier is nearly 40 percent of Weakley County students do not have a computer at home and approximately 25 percent don’t have access to the internet. He informed commissioners he received a letter Thursday, informing him the acquisition of computers ordered for grades K-12 is stalled, due to the political unrest between China and the United States. “We knew it was going to be at least September before we received them, but now it’s going to be even later than that.” He explained China apparently manufactures many of these computers. “We’re going to have to come up with another plan,” Frazier said. “We weren’t expecting that, but we’re having a lot of things occur we didn’t expect.”
Frazier stated the Weakley County Board of Education has already received approximately 1,100 computers, paid for through stimulus money provided by the federal government. “We want to make sure teachers and students have computers at home so they can participate in ZOOM meetings, in the event the shelter-in-place order is revived this fall. Our best plan is to have those 1,100, plus 2,000 more, which will allow students to pursue their education remotely in the event of a shutdown. If not, we’ll have to be creative and think of something else.”
Frazier said another problem is, even if Weakley County had the new computers, it is impossible for all students to use them for online learning as internet service is not available in certain parts of the county. Frazier stated, as long as schools do not close completely, the school system might be able to get by with the equipment it has without excessive disruptions.
Commissioners expressed concerns about school children within their respective districts without internet service. Commissioner Roger Donaldson said, “That’s why we need fiber. We have 1,000 children with no access. We must keep pushing forward for this.”
Commissioner Dennis Doster also spoke in favor of providing internet fiber cable service to all citizens of Weakley County. However, he noted, even if such a project had funding, it would be next year before it would be feasible for installation.
“The plan is going to have to be for what we do today,” Doster said.
Commissioners agreed to revisit the issue at their next meeting.
If schools reopen as planned, faculty and students are required to practice strict safety precautions, as outlined by the CDC and Tennessee government officials. It remains to be seen how these changes will affect learning in the classroom.
Frazier summed up the situation by saying, “This has been the craziest four months of my 35 years as an educator.”
BY DAVID FISHER