School board receives update about COVID situation

Members discusses quarantine guidelines, state laws

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During the February meeting of the White County School Board, members heard updates about new legislation coming from the Tennessee General Assembly and received a district update about COVID-19.

Director of Schools Kurt Dronebarger informed the board  the district was “enjoying a good season” right now in regard to COVID-19 - the low number of students that they are reporting to the state’s health department as having tested positive for the novel coronavirus or are on quarantine because they have been determined to have been in direct contact with someone who tested positive.

Board member Diane Haston raised the question as to whether it was time to revisit the board’s policy about quarantines since the county’s numbers, as a whole, and the school district, in particular, are rapidly decreasing.

“We had Dr. Webb here last month, and he told us that now is not the time to let our guard down,” Dronebarger responded. “I’ve always said that we follow the CDC guidelines and those of our health department. Our attorney has said that we should follow their guidance, so, until they change that guidance [in regard to quarantine recommendations], we will have to continue to these policies.”

Vice chairperson Bob Young voiced his support of Dronebarger’s statement.

“I appreciate everyone’s anxiousness to get back to normal, but I think we need to be cautious,” Young said. “A lot of good work has gone in to allowing us to be in school. Learning is taking place. We’ve made it this far. I would be of the opinion that we don’t rush just because we are seeing good numbers.”

Young then suggested that Dronebarger invite the school system’s coordinated health supervisor, Marcie Kinnard, to the next board meeting so she could update the board on what is happening within the various schools.

During the meeting, Dronebarger presented the board with four new pieces of legislation that came out of Gov. Bill Lee’s Special Session of the Tennessee General Assembly last month:

  • SB7001/HB7003 - Accountability – No students, teachers, schools or districts will be adversely affected by the TCAP testing this year.
  • SB7002/HB7004 - Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act – This bill will provide funding for mandatory summer school opportunities for students. 6-weeks of summer school for the first two years and 4-hours of summer school thereafter. There will also be funding for afterschool care. Starting in 22-23, 3rd grades who do not reach proficiency benchmarks MUST be remanded to summer school or retained.
  • SB7003/HB7002 - TN Literacy Success Act –Creates a universal screener, training, and an approved literacy program for teachers and students surrounding early literacy. It also requires colleges to prepare teachers along these lines.
  • SB7009/HB70220 - Appropriations and Increase to the BEP Instructional Component – This is funding for the above bills and a 2% raise for teachers immediately. The Governor is also promising another 4% raise for teachers in July (next fiscal budget).

Dronebarger explained the money being coming from the state is designated for certificated teachers and nurses only and will result in an approximate $430 bonus for each of them. However, he wanted to find a way to acknowledge the work put in by support staff during the past year and asked that the board approve using local funds to provide each staff personnel with a $150 bonus.

After some discussion about the possibility of using local funds to increase the certificated personnel bonus, during which Dronebarger reminded the board that local funds were used to provide a bonus in late 2020 and stated that his intentions are to reward the support staff as the state did not provide for that, the board voted to approve the $150 bonus for support staff and let the state fund the bonus for certificated personnel (teachers and nurses).

In other business, the board voted to deny a Disciplinary Hearing Authority appeal request by a guardian stating that the board had acted within their rights to uphold school policy and had applied due diligence when investigating the incident before placing the student in question in Alternative School.

The board also heard updates from the School Nutrition Program and the Secondary Education Supervisor as well as approving a new course code for digital literacy, heard updates about the district-wide logo art contest, approved budget amendments and transfers and listened to committee reports.

The next meeting of the White County School Board is scheduled for 6 p.m., March 11, at Findlay Elementary School. The public is welcome to attend but needs to be aware that space may be limited because of  social distancing guidelines.    

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