By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Tucker County Schools were open full time for only a couple weeks before going fully remote due to a drastic rise in positive COVID cases. At the meeting of the Tucker County Board of Education on October 4, the main topic of discussion was students returning to in-person learning on a blended model on October 12. “That will definitely go through the month of October and possibly longer depending on what our cases do in the county,” said Tucker County Schools Superintendent Alicia Lambert.
Lambert explained students with the last names beginning with A through the letter L will attend school on Monday and Wednesday, and those with last names beginning with letters M through Z will go on Tuesday and Thursday. Fridays will serve as a virtual learning day for all students. Any siblings with different last names can contact their schools for accommodations so those students can attend on the same days. “We’re trying to make this as easy as we can on our families,” Lambert said, “We think that the blended model may help get our kids back in school and we can keep them far enough apart to not have the cases like we did previously.”
According to the map dictated by the incidence rate, Tucker County is currently red, but by the percent positivity, they are green. “The state chooses the lower of the two numbers to go by,” Lambert said. Board Member Chris Gross reiterated why he voted against the school re-entry plan, “We told the public one thing, we’re doing another.” He stated the students and parents alike are struggling, and stated, “Most of our proficiency rate is around 30%, that’s in every class.” He continued, “We’re going to lose a whole generation of kids here, they have to be back in school, we are green.”
Gross requested James Snyder of the Tucker County Health Department to participate in the meeting, though Snyder had other commitments during that time. Gross has a desire for more information about the percentage of individuals who are quarantined having symptoms. Gross recently read a study that stated 90% of all cases should not be quarantined because of the sensitivity of the tests and the actual contagious rate of the virus.
“We are destroying our kids’ education guys, and we know good and well that we will not make it up,” Gross continued. “I’m sorry, we’re going to pass these kids to the next grade, their proficiencies are not going to increase.” He said that the age of the students is the group that rarely gets infected, spreads the disease, or dies.
Board Member Cathy Hebb added to the discussion, asking, “If we went to virtual mainly because we didn’t have staff, if next Monday we have the staff, why can’t we go full time?” Board President Tim Turner responded, “I think one of the concerns that I’ve heard from county teachers is we need to make sure that we have healthy staff and there’s no substitutes coming, so I think, in my opinion, I think blended gives the best chance of letting things calm down.” He continued, “The reason we shut down is we had very few bus drivers and then we had several teachers and you can’t combine the classes together, they have to stay in their own pods.”
When school began early September, Tucker County was green with no active cases, and at the time of the meeting, the number of active cases exceeded the number of total positives during the pandemic. Though not all of the cases are school-related, it is still a community spread that is going on. Tucker County is offering testing at any time for anyone wishing to have one; therefore, numerous residents are being tested multiple times. “And that is what is pulling our percent of positivity rate down,” stated Lambert. “I think for the safety of our county as a whole, we need to look at kind of where we are on both regimes,” she added. “To say that we’re red and we’re green at the same time is completely insane, and all that map did was take a tool that everybody felt that they could rely on and they could use for these decisions and it completely altered it.” Lambert confirmed that schools went virtual due to lack of staff, though the number of cases has continued to increase causing more concern
Hebb asked if there was enough staff for blended upon October 12, why the students won’t return full time. Lambert said, “I think the staff will feel safer in a blended model where they don’t have their classrooms full of students and we don’t have buses full of students.” All of the student cases were traced to the same bus, which suggests that with fewer students, additional social distancing space can be practiced which Lambert hopes will add a sense of security. “I think we should revisit going full time as soon as possible, as soon as we can,” Hebb said.
Board Member Jessica Wamsley asked why the three-week timeframe was chosen and if it would be the “rule of thumb” moving forward. Lambert replied, “The theory being, we’re on a 14 day rolling average and the DHHR is behind on updating their numbers onto that chart.” Since school was in approximately three weeks, that timeframe was chosen to be used as a measuring block to compare progress and allow for the case numbers to catch up.
In an attempt to clarify some questions, Lambert explained the process of quarantining individuals thought to be at risk. Once a positive is received, contacts are tracked back 48 hours or from the onset of symptoms. Anyone within six feet of the positive individual for more than 15 minutes or more will be required to quarantine. She stated that in classrooms where masks are required, that same rule can be adhered to, though in classes without masks and the students are moving around, everyone must quarantine. “Anytime there are more than two cases in a class, on a bus, or on a sports team, that’s considered an outbreak and automatically the whole bus gets quarantined, the whole class gets quarantined whether there’s masks or not, or the whole sports team gets quarantined,” she added. Even with a negative test, individuals still have to quarantine, though those time frames can vary depending on the timeframe of the positive.
Lambert acknowledged the remote learning engagement far exceeds that of last Spring when the schools shut down and feel the teachers are more comfortable with the platform due to ample preparation time.
Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School Principal Neil “Steelie” Kisamore commended his teachers and staff for working diligently to ensure their students are still receiving a quality education. He stated that the school counselor is also participating via a virtual platform to ensure mental health is also addressed during the remote learning times.
Tucker County High School Principal David Koritko said that his teachers prepared several weeks in advance for the potential to teach in all scenarios. He feels the blended model is ideal to bring students back into the buildings and resume face to face interaction. “I absolutely agree with everybody, kids need to be in school but maybe not as frequently in this time period,” said Koritko. He acknowledged that there is a deficiency of involvement from his students on their virtual lessons that need to be addressed.
Kelly Thompson, Principal at Tucker Valley Elementary Middle School, was grateful for the time given to teachers to prepare for the potential of remote education. “It has gone a lot smoother and more kids are getting on and parents are more involved also,” she added. “The staff has worked very hard,” Thompson commended, stating they have done an excellent job keeping up and being in contact with their students.
Facilities Director Jonathan Hicks presented the 2020 10 year Comprehensive Education and Facilities Plan (CEFP), which is now put out for public comment. For anyone interested in receiving the document, they can find it on www.tuckercountyschools.com or the school Facebook page. This plan will have to undergo three readings and a public hearing before the board vote. Hebb noted upon early review of the plan, “It looks really promising.”
The board members were also made aware of eight more students who will be turning to homeschool, two from TVEMS, four at DTEMS and two from TCHS. Lambert also announced that, per Turner’s request, a letter is being sent to all high school-aged students who submit a notice of intent to ensure they fully understand the non-transfer of credits.
The consent agenda items were approved with a motion by Gross and Board Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans. Hebb thanked Finance Director Tracy Teets for the addition of the notes added to the payment of the bills. Budget adjustments were approved with a motion by Evans and a second by Hebb.
Lambert made a recommendation to accept the resignation of Emily Thompson as the TVEMS Intervention Specialist Itinerant, effective October 9, and Wendy Gidley, substitute aide, effective September 22. Both recommendations passed unanimously. Lambert also made the recommendation to hire Angela Evans as the middle school extracurricular intervention specialist and distant learning teacher as well as Adam Freeman, head boys basketball coach at TVEMS. All members voted in favor of the recommendation.
The next meeting will be held Monday, October 19 at 4:30 p.m. where the Golden Horseshoe winners and National Honor Society inductees from 2019-2020 school year will be recognized. All those in attendance are required to wear a mask.