Kurt Dronebarger, director of White County Schools, updated the school board, on Dec. 10, on the status of COVID-19 as it is affecting the county’s education system.
“It’s difficult, but I don’t want to focus on the negative,” Dronebarger said. “I want to accentuate the positive – there is so much going right. Our schools are doing a great job of handling the diversity in learning, and I couldn’t be more proud of what our faculty and staff are doing.”
He went on to say that he feels White County schools are handling the pandemic as well as anyone in the state of Tennessee as is evident by the fact the county’s schools have been open five days a week since September.
“At the end of the day, we are having school every day,” Dronebarger said. “You can watch the same news I do; there are districts all around us that are shutting down – that are going completely virtual. I know I am biased, but we have handled this pandemic as well as anyone in the state of Tennessee, and that’s a testament to the work that is going on by the faculty and staff every day. I am very, very proud of them.”
Dronebarger then addressed the number of students not in school due to positive cases of COVID-19 or being quarantined for exposure.
“As far as where we stand right now in numbers, the recess that we took at Thanksgiving was very beneficial. It kind of reset that quarantine that number and brought back almost all of our students,” Dronebarger told the board. “It has risen considerably since that point. We are not back to where we were before Thanksgiving, but we are approaching that, and, by the end of next week, I think we will reach that point which was approaching 500 students out for quarantine.”
He went on to say that the system is in the yellow category for quarantines but in the green for all other categories surrounding the pandemic. He stated the school system’s hope is to get through the final week of the semester and then take another recess and reset over the Christmas break.
“Administratively, we are preparing for another spike after Christmas – two to three weeks after Christmas – we are preparing for that,” Dronebarger added.
He discussed the virtual learning that is happening for students who are quarantined and said he believes teachers are doing great teaching for those students that are at home. Through grants from Ben Lomand Connect and Caney Fork Electric, the school has been able to provide 26 families with internet service in their homes, giving them access to virtual learning when needed.
“That learning loss is not there,” Dronebarger said. “We are connecting with those students every day. Sure, we would like to have them face to face, but it is going well when we can’t.”
Dronebarger outlined new quarantine guidelines that have been handed down to the school system from the Tennessee Department of Health.
The CDC and TDH still recommend a 14-day quarantine. This is the gold standard for preventing the spread of Covid-19. If families are not able to do a 14-day quarantine there are options for less time. Essentially students and staff can return to work between 7 and 10 days for non-household contact. If the contact is in the same house, then the quarantine time can be reduced to 17-20 days.
Once exposure is no longer occurring (positive case has either completed their 10-days or case and contact are able to separate):
Please note that symptom free means not one symptom.
“Absolutely, a family can choose to keep their child out for the full 14-day quarantine without any worry of us counting them as absent,” Dronebarger responded when asked, pointing to what the CDC says is the “gold standard” of 14 days. “In addition, if they have one child on quarantine, and they would like to keep any additional students in the home on virtual learning during that time, whether in an abundance of caution or for convenience, we will support that and not count those students absent as well.”
The December school board meeting was held at BonDeCroft Elementary School, and principal Sara Cope provided a video presentation so the board could see the different strategies for learning that were taking place every day in her school.
“This year has been a different year,” Cope said. “There have been challenges and obstacles we’ve had to navigate through, but I am so proud of the work the teachers have done and the efforts to social distance. They have taken these challenges and accepted them with a gracious attitude. It’s not been easy, but they have done it. It’s because they love our students. They love what they do. They just continue to work hard every day.”
Chairman Jayson McDonald responded to Cope’s presentation with gratitude for the work that all faculty and staff across the county are doing.
“I want to say thank you for the work that you are putting in,” McDonald said. “Like you said, it’s been a different year. COVID has changed the outlook of everything we do from family time gathering at Thanksgiving or Christmas to the way we educate our kids. Teachers, I commend you for doing the work that you are doing. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all the work you are doing for our students. “
Other items on the monthly agenda included approving budget transfers, approving Craig Lynn and Angela Fresh as district testing coordinators, and approving Scott Griffith as a volunteer coach for the White County Middle School golf team and Ben Anderson as a volunteer assistant coach for the White County High School soccer team (pending an approved background check).
The next meeting of the White County Board of Education is scheduled 6 p.m., Jan. 14, 2021, at Cassville Elementary School.