BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
WEAKLEY COUNTY (August 24) — Health, safety and launching learning for a new year were top priorities at Weakley County Schools when the 2020-21 academic year began last week.
By Friday, more than 3,330 students on campuses were well-acquainted with body temperature checks, when and where to wear masks, and the six feet needed to adequately social distance. The week’s end also revealed 542 students opted for the Monitored Distance Education (MDE) program. In a Friday afternoon update to Weakley County School Board members, Director Randy Frazier noted a total of 3,872 were enrolled in either in-class or virtual options offered by the school system.
More than 250 of those MDE applications were received during the first week of classes, leading to staff adjustments. All applications are processed and each student has access to work online.
“We are aware that our plan for reopening schools had a few hiccups but overall we are pleased with the cooperative spirit we’ve seen from teachers, staff, bus drivers, our nutrition personnel as well as parents and students,” said Frazier, director. “We now want to do everything we can to keep the focus on learning while being vigilant about ways to stop the spread of the virus.”
Among the items that needed some course corrections were traffic flow, bus timing, lack of lockers and meals.
Schools were looking into alternatives to routing cars. The transportation department met with administrators to determine how to quickly move riders onto and off the bus.
“We need our parents to recognize that safety precautions have had an impact on how we start the day and close the day,” noted Frazier. “We need their help in making sure children’s temperatures are checked before they ever climb aboard one of our buses and to support our requirement of students wearing masks while on our vehicles. We have some dedicated bus drivers who we want to keep healthy and students wearing masks, plus good behavior, will allow drivers to adhere to the guidance of no more than 10 minutes of interaction when the six-feet rule is not possible.”
In schools where, in order to keep students distanced, lockers were not issued, loaded backpacks became a concern. Since the school board had previously approved rolling backpacks earlier this year in light of COVID-19, students were notified that limitation was removed.
Students who were used to purchasing second entrees in the cafeterias were disappointed to learn that for a short period, as meal distribution processes are worked out, that option is not available. However, the plan is to phase in the additional food options in the coming days, beginning with high schools. Trista Snider, the nutrition director, says staff have already increased veggies and fruits for middle schools and high schools.
“We are working out the kinks of the new system,” explained Snider. “Just as we provided meals throughout the summer, we want to provide meals that our students will enjoy. We ask our parents to encourage children to take advantage of our free breakfasts – perhaps to enjoy later in the day – and to have patience as we work out the safest way to satisfy our students’ appetites.”
Once doors opened Monday, August 17, 2020, steps were taken to make sure Weakley County would be prepared should quarantines due to exposure or isolations of positive cases severely limit the schools’ faculty. A questionnaire was distributed to determine students’ access to devices and internet should a closure be necessary.
Of the 2,815 responses received, 2,176 students indicated they had a tablet, laptop or desktop at home and 2,005 noted they could use a cell phone as a hot spot or have reliable internet access.
Approximately 220 of the MDE students need to use a Weakley County Schools laptop for their course work. Based on the questionnaire results, 365 of 6-12th graders require an additional laptop.
“We are pleased that, should a closure be necessary, these numbers show we will be able to cover the needs of our students with the laptops we have on hand at our schools,” said Frazier. “The additional devices that we ordered will cover the needs of any of our elementary-school students who, though using a tool kit of resources initially, will be better connected to their teachers and enrichment opportunities with the addition of a laptop.”
As reported earlier, an international issue with shipping delayed receipt of computers for schools across the country. Mark Maddox, Weakley County Schools’ technology coordinator, says he anticipates receiving new computers by the first of October.
In the cases of low- to no-internet access, hot spots will be provided, he added.
“We are taking each challenge presented to us and addressing it as quickly and effectively as we can,” said Frazier of the efforts put forth by administrators, teachers and staff last week.
“We welcome insights on how to improve and encourage parents who have a concern to speak directly with their child’s teacher or principal. We can also take calls here in the Central Office and will do our best to find answers. What is almost impossible to do is monitor rumors that spread on social media. So we definitely need parental support in moving forward. Direct communication is always best.”
Changing health guidelines continue to challenge school administrators. As a result, schools will direct all questions to the Department of Health regarding time needed for positive cases to remain in isolation and students who had direct contact (closer than six feet for more than 10 minutes) to quarantine.
As of Friday, schools were notified of approximately 149 students or staff members who were either isolated or quarantined.
“We do need families to notify our schools if one of our students has tested positive or has been told to quarantine due to direct contact,” emphasized Frazier. “We need documentation regarding a positive test of a student and we must have information in order to take appropriate safety precautions within the schools. Working together, we can take necessary steps to help stop the spread.”
BY KAREN CAMPBELL