By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Athletics Director Jonathan Hicks and the Tucker County High School Girls Cross Country Team Coaches Michele and Jack Mullenax prepared a small recognition ceremony for the 2020 team at the beginning of the Board of Education meeting on January 19. The BOE members were seated in the annex gym as the girls’ names were announced and they were presented with their awards. They were congratulated on a record-setting year, and expressed their excitement for the next season.
Upon returning to the meeting room to conduct the official business, Athletics Director Jonathan Hicks presented the option to add a middle school baseball and volleyball team to the list of sports offered in Tucker County. He began by stating that when the TCHS Volleyball Team was developed two years ago, the goal was to form a middle school team that will boost the high school program when those athletes move throughout the program.
Several times within the past months, Hicks has been approached requesting a middle school baseball team which, though the challenge is there are a limited number of opposing teams within close proximity. The volleyball team has several opponents that would provide a full schedule.
“It will be self-funded except for transportation costs,” Hicks further explained to the board. Coaches will need to be sought and their first year will be on a volunteer basis. The high school teams are in favor of the additional teams and the middle school principals are supportive as well. Board Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans asked where the games would be played; to which Hicks responded, volleyball would be played at Tucker Valley Elementary Middle School and the baseball team would play on the same field as TCHS at River City Park in Pulp Mill Bottom. The high school volleyball team has provided the middle school team with the needed equipment, all they need is a coach.
“I think if we want to have long term success at our high school level, it’s vital to have this program at the middle school level,” Hicks added. The request is for baseball to start Spring 2021 and volleyball in the Fall. Students will be responsible for transportation to and from practice which will be determined after a coach is acquired.
TCBOE received two notices of intent to homeschool from TVEMS students and the consent agenda items were approved with a motion from Evans and Board Member Jessica Wamsley. Superintendent Alicia Lambert recommended approving the resignation of Daniel Dilly, TASC Examiner (General Educational Degree Program Tester), effective December 31, 2020, which was approved unanimously. She also made the recommendation to accept the resignation of Courtney Nestor as Head Track Coach at TVEMS effective January 12, 2021, which also passed. Lambert’s final recommended action was to accept a request for unpaid medical leave of absence from Bus Operator William Simmons, beginning January 27, 2021 until released by a physician. Evans and Board Member Cathy Hebb moved to accept the request with all in favor.
The financial statements were prepared by Finance Director Tracy Teets, who also noted the preliminary state aid estimate was received which yielded a decrease in approximately $223,000 due to a decrease in enrollment. “We were notified that we are going to receive approximately $828,000 in round two for ESSER (CARES Act Funding for Schools) funding,” said Teets. Another allocation of around $214,000 for the school improvement projects at TVEMS will be received as well. Unfortunately, she stated the $50,000 enrollment increase funding had to be returned to the state due to the decrease in attendance.
The updated COVID-19 Re-Entry Guidance documents were updated and changes highlighted to make the BOE members aware. With COVID Leave no longer being an option, Lambert and the board discussed how Tucker County Schools will handle staff leave related to the virus and when they can return. The Tucker County Health Department recommends upon becoming positive, a 14 day quarantine is needed. The Center of Disease Control suggests that 10 days in quarantine without symptoms is acceptable, or a seven day quarantine and a negative test. “We are not allowed to mandate a test, so the only way to have them tested would be to adopt the CDC regulations of seven days with a negative test or 10 days without a test,” stated Lambert.
Discussion followed as to what day during the seven day quarantine the test can be taken. Once the vaccines take effect, staff will no longer have to worry about becoming quarantined if exposed, only if showing symptoms. Chris Gross spoke briefly about the testing for COVID-19 and how sensitive they are, which he indicated resulted in 90% of individuals quarantined should not be.
On January 8, all staff over age 50 wishing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was given that opportunity, and the remaining staff regardless of age the following week. “So we vaccinated 81 of our full time employees,” said Lambert, which is roughly half. The BOE unanimously agreed to adopt the CDC guidelines for their staff that if they must be out due to COVID-19, they can return after 10 days of quarantine without any symptoms, or they can return after seven days of quarantine and a negative test after day five. To clarify, Turner read over the CDC guidelines that pertained to their motion, which included, “Quarantine can end after day 10 without testing and if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring,” and, “Quarantine can end after day seven if the diagnostics specimen tests negative and if those symptoms were reported during the days of monitoring. The specimen will be collected on day five and tested within 48 hours before the time of planned quarantine discontinuation.” Evans made the motion to adopt these guidelines with a second from Chris Gross and all in favor.
The letter that was issued to parents and the public was given to the BOE members and attention drawn to the end date of adhering to the blended schedule would be. The letter states that once Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade returns to full time, regardless of the color indicated on the map, they will remain in school full time. Due to the inter-mingling that is unavoidable within TCHS, the high school will be required to go remote if the county is deemed red or if there is an outbreak within the school. “We feel like we can make the best decisions based on our local data because our Health Department has been very good about getting it out timely, and updating us daily,” said Lambert. Her goal was to gather the thoughts from the members on how they feel the students should return full time with the Teachers Unions pushing for that date to be after the vaccinations have a chance to have both doses administered.
Hebb stated, “We had 50% of our staff refuse to take the vaccine.” This could lead to a lengthy timeframe if waiting for all staff to become vaccinated prior to returning five days a week. At the day of the meeting, students have been on a blended schedule for 30 days, have spent 30 days remote, and have received in person instruction for just 13 days. Hebb expressed concern again for the education of the students’ and the potential psychological damage they may have endured. She also stated that the parents want to have a say and the parents that want their students not to be in school have the options of virtual or home school, however those who want their child in school do not have an option.
Turner said, “I think we need to wait until at least the first meeting in February and see where we are.” Lambert said that the State Board of Education claimed there was no correlation between the community and school data, however, she said, “We did see a correlation of when cases were high in the community we had more cases that were linked to students in our schools.” Gross reiterated that he feels, “Fear blocks logic,” and the data does not support the closing of schools. “We have no science to show why we’ve shut down, none,” he continued, “We need to be back in school.” The BOE will evaluate where the statistics are at their next board meeting and a decision will be made at that time.
The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 1, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. at the Tucker County BOE Office. Masks are required to attend.