By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Tucker County Board of Education was made aware of the first positive COVID-19 case within Tucker County High School. With masks a requirement at that school and with block scheduling, the contact tracing was easier for the staff. Everyone who was within six feet of the student for more than 15 minutes was made aware of the situation and has been asked to quarantine for 14 days. In addition to the student, who has not been in school since the week prior, 10 additional students and three staff members were told to quarantine.
“See the issue with that is a restaurant where everybody’s wearing masks has to shut down and clean everything,” stated Board Member Jessica Wamsley. “The schools are disinfected constantly, everything is cleaned throughout the day, especially high touch surfaces,” responded Superintendent Alicia Lambert. She commended the staff of the schools who work diligently to clean and sanitize, not just in this pandemic but on a general basis. Lambert was also very pleased with how quickly everyone was notified once they received word from the Tucker County Health Department of the positive case within a school.
Board President Tim Turner asked about testing of those quarantined, which Lambert said she knew they were tested that day, but was unsure if they would be tested again prior to return. Board Vice President Daniel “Chopper” Evans asked if they tested negative that day and tests negative in the next couple days, why they needed to remain out the entire 14 days. “I guess because the virus can take up to 14 days to manifest,” Lambert responded.
The metrics have been changed from an incidence rate to a percent positivity breakdown. The new formula allows for the percentage of people who have been tested to be used in the calculation to bring down the percent positive.
Due to the increase in cases and those in connection with students or employees of Tucker County Schools, Lambert had no choice but to make the announcement that school will go to full remote learning for at least two weeks. Lambert explained that going virtual, “Is a mix of learning through teacher instruction along with completing downloaded assignments.” Teachers will offer their lessons through Microsoft Teams and the students will be responsible for their assignments that are accessible through Google Classroom. If students cannot view the instructional components at the time it is conducted, the lessons will be recorded and can then be viewed at different times. Internet service is needed to download the content to their Chromebooks, however once it is downloaded it is accessible offline. “Kids in preschool through second grade will have packets,” she added.
Attendance Director Amber Kyle was present to update the Tucker County Board of Education on the number of students who have turned to homeschooling due to the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. She stated that, as of that day, Davis Thomas Elementary Middle School has 179 students, Tucker Valley Elementary Middle School 447, and Tucker County High School 304 for a county wide total of 930 students.
There were 67 students who homeschooled last year and returned to do so for this school year with an additional 20 from DTEMS, 41 from TVEMS, and five from TCHS. “So our current homeschool numbers are 133,” Kyle said. In addition, 42 students are participating in virtual education, which is still considered public school, which is made up of three from DTEMS, 14 from TVEMS, and 25 at TCHS. The 42 enrolled in virtual learning are included in the total 930 that are counted as public school students. “I can tell you that every homeschool parent that I have talked to tell me ‘We’ll be back next year’”, she stated.
With a total of 24 new notices of intent to homeschool being on the agenda to be recognized, Board Member Cathy Hebb asked if those individuals were included in the 133 total numbers or if they had begun public school and changed their mind. Kyle responded, “Every student that is on this list of the new students, have not stepped foot into our building this year.” Lambert added that she believes that the abundance of notices coming in at this time was due to parents waiting for the final call from Governor Jim Justice regarding reopening schools versus going virtual. “So that puts us down 46 students from last year’s October 1 enrollment which means, in retrospect, if COVID wouldn’t have hit, our enrollment numbers would have increased this year,” Lambert added. Kyle also suggested that may not have been the case because several families have moved into the county since COVID, which may not have happened if the pandemic hadn’t hit. An official report will be given by Kyle after the October 1 count.
Turner recommended a certified letter be sent to the parents once they submit their notice of intent to homeschool which will require the parent’s signature and returned to be kept on file. This would ensure the parents understand what it means to homeschool especially when relating to high school students and the credits they receive at homeschool does not transfer to the public school system. Wamsley stated she has had conversations with parents who are under the impression they can homeschool their ninth grade student and return to school the following year as a sophomore, which is not the case. “There needs to be a certified letter go out to notify these parents that if these kids are not being taught by certified teachers in each of these subjects, they will not transfer back to the high school and that is per state board policy, that’s not Tucker County policy” Turner confirmed.
TVEMS Special Education Teacher Tracy Harlan on behalf of Read Aloud and Title I, had the honor of recognizing Cindy Kolsun and Jenny Newland with the Rotary Club for their contribution to the program. “It’s a statewide program, it’s a non-profit program, and what we do is we train individuals in the county to become readers in our school,” Harlan explained. This is also done in partnership with the local libraries and the Family Resource Network with one of the main goals being encouraging the youth to read. Last school year, up until COVID-19, an event was held on a monthly basis. “This year, everything will be virtual,” she added.
Kolsun and Newland were involved in a $750 donation which went towards the purchase of 650 high quality books which Harlan brought to share with the board. These books help keep the inventory at the libraries up to date on what the children are interested in reading.
Harlan turned the recognition over to Lambert who presented certificates of appreciation to The Rotary Club along with Kolsun for their contributions. Kolsun stated she has been reading to the fourth grade glass for five years and encourages anyone who has the ability to serve as a reader to do so.
An option was made for employers to not be taxed on their social security from September 1 through December 31. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that this money would be required to be paid back. Tucker County Schools elected to not participate in this temporary tax deduction, which Financial Director Tracy Teets stated that most employees thanked for that decision.
Lambert brought to the table recommendations to hire the following: Robyn Nestor and Robert Markley as mentor teachers, Teresa Betler as extra-curricular intervention specialist and distance learning teacher for the middle school, Donna Akins for social studies and special education extra-curricular intervention specialist and distant learning teacher for middle school, and Kimberly Welsh, middle school math extra-curricular intervention specialist and distance learning teacher. The intervention specialist positions are all itinerant positions for the 2020-21 school year. Hebb made a motion to approve the hiring with a second by Evans. Wamsley asked about the workload to prevent overload for the teachers doing the courses, though Lambert explained it would not be every subject every day and it is only for one student. All members voted in favor of the motion.
Teets presented the budget adjustments and annual financial statements as she highlighted the main points of the lengthy documents, most of which do not occur on the monthly statements. “You can see we ended the year for these Government wide statements by an increase of $4.4 million and the majority of that is fixed assets,” Teets said, which includes the improvements made at TVEMS and DTEMS.
As she directed their attention to the next document, she said, “We’re not in a deficit for the end of the year.” Teets continued, “We actually increased, in the general fund we increased our fund balance by $1.8 million and if you remember, the majority of all of that is that additional state aid from the bill that was passed.” Some of the revenues which used to be included in other funds have been brought over to the general fund, also adding to the increase. When the specialized funds balances were reviewed, the opposite was noted as the balance was negative $623,595. This fund also serves as the grants received for projects, which are paid out on a reimbursement basis, therefore Teets explained, “We will get that revenue.”
It was discovered that the school support organizations need to be approved on an annual basis by the board; therefore it was requested to vote on the DTEMS Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), TVEMS PTO, and TCHS Football boosters. Hebb asked if the high school had a PTO, which Teets responded, “They do not.” Wamsley made a motion to approve the organizations with a second by Evans. Wamsley stated, “It’s a crying shame that that’s the only support organizations there are.” She feels that the support groups could and should be far more populated and encourages parents to join the boards and be a voice for the schools.
When reviewing the calendar of events, Lambert explained that the meeting on November 16 which will include the TVEMS Local School Improvement Council on the agenda, “That is the required meeting that we have to have with them because they are a CSI school.” TCBOE typically does a meeting such as this for every school; however, it is required for TVEMS. The board will supply them with an agenda of topics they wish to be updated on, which has to be provided at least 30 days prior to the meeting.
The next meeting of the TCBOE will be Monday, October 5 at 4:30 p.m. The meeting will be held in the board office and masks will be required to attend.