BY DAVID FISHER
DRESDEN (January 7) — On Thursday, January 7, 2021, school board members met at the Weakley County Board of Education in Dresden in-person and online during their first monthly meeting of the new year.
Director of Weakley County Schools Randy Frazier gave an update regarding COVID-19-related items. He said, “We got a good start back at school this week. We were short bus drivers and cafeteria workers before Christmas, but we’re keeping those numbers down now.”
A resolution amending the School Federal Projects Fund for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, received unanimous board approval. The resolution, which involves only federal monies and no local tax dollars, authorizes the expenditure of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds created by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to mitigate the costs to schools associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It was noted the expenditure of these funds must be in compliance with federal law.
Additional funds, amounting to $22,550, are earmarked to cover increased expenditures for salaries and benefits for certified and non-certified substitute teachers due to COVID. The resolution also provides funding for increased expenses for contracted services with private agencies, such as, but not limited to, occupational, speech, physical and adaptive behavior.
Concerning CARES Act monies, Frazier stated funds are going to be released of over the next two and a half years. The first release of funds is in September 2022, and the second is in September 2023.
Frazier said ESSR 2.0 federal funding for emergency stability during the pandemic totals $3,871,148. The monies can be used to address previous items, such as, safety and technology, but will also be available for funding approaches to deal with learning loss and stability with an emphasis on facilities. The director plans to conduct staff discussions this week, including representation from schools, regarding possible use of the funds.
According to Frazier, crowd control at athletic events during the pandemic continues to be a priority. Each school has evaluated how to best space seats according to their facilities. The director said, later this year, he will ask principals to report financial losses.
Frazier noted when schools closed for winter break, there were mounting numbers of COVID-related student absences, due to them being in quarantine. However, when classes resumed on January 4, 2021, there was a significant decline in student and teacher absences. He said the number of cases declined from 387 on December 17, 2020, to 128 students as of January 7.
Although the distribution of vaccinations does prioritize educators, Frazier said, the overload at Weakley County Health Department and the lack of vaccinations available have meant that teachers and administrators have not been vaccinated. However, they are on a waiting list.
“There are currently 2,000 people on the waiting list,” he said. Frazier states he is in talks with the health department to see if they would allow the school system to vaccinate employees on school grounds with school-enlisted assistance. “I’m going to ask the state to ship them directly to us,” Frazier said.
There is a time-crunch however, since the shots can’t be left out more than four hours. This means the vaccinations must be given very quickly, so they don’t spoil.
“Our thought is to get them and go from school-to-school,” Frazier said.
Frazier informed board members that the after-school programs in Greenfield, Martin and Dresden are losing money due to lack of attendance.
“We try to at least break even on these programs,” Frazier said. “I want the board to be aware so that we aren’t caught off guard at the end of the year.”
Regarding students enrolled in the after-school program, Frazier said, “Our numbers have been down. During the first semester, we were operating in the black.”
Frazier suggested using some of the COVID-19 grant funding to supplement these programs and keep them operating.
“If we do away with the program, we impact people who are trying to work,” Frazier said. “When we get back to a normal situation, I think the numbers will rise.”
He stated the after-school program charges $8 per child daily.
Next, board members viewed a recently-released public service announcement stressing public safety and observance of COVID-19 precautions, such as washing hands, staying at least six feet apart, and wearing masks.
School Board Policy Changes
Under old business, the second readings of two policy matters were approved. One addressed timing-related changes to the existing policy on naming new facilities. The other was a policy drafted in accordance with a new state law regarding the enrollment, placement and transportation of students in foster care.
Regarding naming new school facilities, the revised policy eliminates the requirement that this honor should be considered only for people who are deceased.
The policy adds the wording, “If necessary, a time limit may be set on the duration of the period over which the naming is applicable. After that period of time (20 years, for example), the plaque may be removed and presented, with an appropriate ceremony, to the family of the person honored.”
The board also approved the second reading of a resolution outlining a new School Board Policy, as mandated by the federal government. The policy formalizes actions already in place, which addresses the needs of students in foster care. The policy involves the enrollment, placement and transportation of foster students. It states Weakley County Schools shall provide all students in foster care, to include those awaiting foster care placement, with a free and appropriate public education.
The policy stipulates these foster care students shall be immediately enrolled, even if the student is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, including: academic records, immunization records, health records, or proof of residency. Additionally, these students must be enrolled even if they missed the district’s application or enrollment deadlines.
According to policy guidelines, after consulting with the student, foster parents and biological parents (if appropriate), the district and child welfare agency shall determine whether placement in a particular school is in a student’s best interest. The policy stresses there is a strong presumption that keeping the student in the school in which he or she is already enrolled is normally in the student’s best interest. The policy states transportation costs should not be considered when determining a student’s best interest.
“The policy is the same procedure we have always followed,” explained Betsi Foster, who is the staff member assigned to writing and updating policies and procedures. “We have an almost identical one for students who are homeless. The emphasis is on trying to keep kids in their school of origin.”
Assistant Football Coach Appointed
In other board action, members hired Daniel Harris as a volunteer football coach at Martin Middle School.
In announcements, Frazier stated topics for discussion during a special legislative session, called by Governor Bill Lee, which begins January 19, involves: funding for the Basic Education Program (BEP) and teacher pay. The session will also address accountability measures, such as: holding schools harmless for test scores, early literacy and determining how much learning loss has occurred statewide, due to COVID.
School Board Chairman Steve Vantrease stated the next meeting of the Weakley County School Board will be held at the Weakley County Board of Education Conference Room, on Thursday, February 4, 2021, beginning at 5 p.m.