White County School Board met in person for the first time since March, although, in an effort to maintain social distancing practices and ensure the safety of board members and the community, the meeting was closed to the public.
Before the board discussed any business, a moment of silence was observed for Richard McBride who had served on the board, representing district four, for the past 12 years before passing away recently with illnesses related to the cancer he had been fighting.
Once the board got down to business, the main topic was the return to school in the fall.
“We’ve been waiting on guidance from the state department, and just this week we received Tennessee’s official guidance in the form of a 38-page document,” Kurt Dronebarger, director of White County schools, told the board. “It’s very vague in its specificity. It gives you many options.”
According to Dronebarger, there are four categories of plans for reopening of schools:
1.All students physically in school buildings
2.All students participate in virtual and distance education
3.Some students in physical buildings and some virtual
4.Cyclical or intermittent physical and virtual education
White County Board of Education recently used the Skyward System to send a survey to parents, and 63 percent of the 3,000 responses they received favored Category 1, the reopening of schools, despite the safety measures that will need to be put in place.
Dronebarger went on to say he has been meeting weekly with the directors of schools all over the Upper Cumberland as well was talking to officials at the health department and various individuals throughout the health community.
“I would like to say Upper Cumberland directors have discussed this at length, and most folks are leaning toward a traditional start in August,” he explained, and added that a traditional start will still look somewhat different than in years past. “However, there will be many safety measures in place.”
Some of those safety measures could include checking temperatures as students get on the school bus and as they enter the building and washing hands more frequently throughout the school day. Physical education classes and lunch times will be conducted differently, and Dronebarger said he wasn’t sure how recess would work.
“There will be a lot of health precautions in place,” the director said. “There are a lot of things for us to work through.”
Dronebarger said he expects to have a detailed plan by the week July 1 as to what going back to school in White County will look like and what parents and students can expect.
“There is no way to go to the school building and follow the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines,” Dronebarger informed the board. “However, they are guidelines, and we will try to follow as many as we can, but they aren’t laws, they aren’t mandates.”
He also said that, while the goal is to have a traditional school year with all students in the classroom, the idea that the need to step back and resume online schooling is a reality and steps are being taken to plan for that. Dronebarger said the first week of school may be a hybrid week, with half of the students attending class two days and the other half attending a separate two days.
“This would be for the first week only, and then we would move back to traditional school,” he reiterated.
Dronebarger said that particular time would be used to teach students how to do an online version of school, including making sure they know how to log in as well as solving connectivity and device-availability issues.
“Teachers will be recording [lessons] daily so parents don’t have to try to explain lessons,” he said. “[You will see a] whole different version than in the spring.”
Dronebarger also said he may ask the state for a waiver for the 180 days in case they have to go to online schooling again.
“I don’t know that I can confirm how many hours every day a student is doing,” he said about the time spent doing lessons virtually. “And I don’t know that I can confirm 180 days by students.”
The board unanimously passed a motion to resume as close to a traditional school year as possible.
Other items on the agenda included budget amendments, committee reports on improvements to school buildings in preparation for the next school year, and approval of the White County High School boys’ basketball trip to Panama City Beach, in December. Discussion about school fundraisers was tabled until the July meeting, which will take place at the new Board of Education building, at 576 Hale St.