Survey says, start school together

Dewain E. Peek/OCN screen shot

With social distancing still being observed, School Board members and school personnel listen to Director of Schools Mark Winningham, far right, talk about plans to begin the 2020-21 school year.

By Dewain E. Peek,

OCN Editor

Overton County Board of Education held a work session Thursday, June 18 in which Director of Schools Mark Winningham addressed plans to open the 2020-2021 school year.

He began by informing the Board that athletics started back June 1, then he turned to speaking about the upcoming school year.

“So far, what most districts have said they are going to try to do is they’re going to open full and serve as many students that want to come,” Director Winningham said. “And then, if the students or the parents are concerned about whether they don’t want them to go to school or not, we will be able to, hopefully, to teach them remotely at the same time that students are in their classrooms. So, they’ll get the same instruction as everyone else, if that’s what we decide to do, go back full.”

Overton County parents and teachers have been asked their preferences.

“We did send out a survey.”

Instructional Technology Coordinator Brent Thrasher put the results up on the screen for the School Board to see.

“It was a one question survey,” Director Winningham said.

The question was whether to go back to school with all students or to go back to school with half of the students attending on Monday and Wednesday, and the other half attending on Tuesday and Thursday, with Friday a cleaning day.

The results showed that 61% of the 3,960 respondents want to go back full.

“That’s what we’ve received so far,” Director Winningham said.

School systems have few options during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s really only three – some kind of hybrid, or everybody back, or nobody back, and I don’t think nobody there is an option at this point,” Director Winningham said.

“Now, we do realize that at some point, the district may have to close or a specific school may have to close for a few days. I really wish that we could get a little more specific direction, but for right now, that’s a local decision.”

School Board member Mike Hayes pointed out the difficulty of splitting up the high school days.

Director Winningham agreed that high school curriculum is one of the greatest concerns, and added, “The other concern is, what do you do with transportation?”

Families with students in different grades could have one child going one day and another the next day where the children would not be going to school on the same day.

“Logistically, that is a nightmare trying to figure all that out,” Director Winningham said.

Children riding the bus was another concern.

School Board member Ricky Dodson asked about taking students’ temperatures when entering the bus.

“Great question,” Director Winningham said, “and, of course, we’ll have all that plan in place well before school starts. We have ordered thermometers through Coordinated School Health. We’ve ordered some here at the office.”

He said 75 have been ordered through the local Emergency Management.

“So we should have, before school starts, in excess of a hundred thermometers that you just point,” Director Winningham said.

Checking students before being allowed to board the bus was suggested.

“If they’re running a fever, they’ll have to go back in,” Director Winningham said.

Having attendants on buses to check temperatures was mentioned as an option.

School Board member Jarman Hicks said he believed attendants would be the best way to test before they get on the bus because it is too dangerous and time consuming to have the bus driver perform that duty.

“So, that’s what we’re looking at,” Director Winningham said. “I’d like your blessing on one of them. You know, it’s not my decision, I don’t think, alone. And, of course, we’ll involve the Health Department in our plans and things like that, as well. But, I’d really like for you’all to give the blessing one way or the other.”

School Board member Diane Sadler agreed with opening the schools

“I agree with Diane,” School Board member Mike Gilpatrick said. “I think we should go for opening full time. And we know we’ll have to make adjustments accordingly.”

“This is always subject to change,” Director Winningham said, noting that guidance from the state has changed throughout this pandemic.

“I do think that most people are ready to get back to some semblance of normal,” he said. “So, I think that’s good if we can do that, as much as possible.”

Director Winningham hopes to have a plan ready by mid-July

He said with social distancing, 15 students will fit in most rooms.

When asked about the Back to School Bash, Director Winningham said it may be held at the schools similar to how the meals have been handed out.