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Weakley County School Board approves reopening plan

By Amanda Mansfield, Press Reporter

The Weakley County School Board met Thursday night and unanimously approved a reopening plan that recommends social distancing and encourages mask wearing. While these measures cannot be enforced at this time, Director of Schools Randy Frazier is hopeful that reopening will go smoothly.

“We feel it’s important to continue with what we’ve been doing,” Frazier said of how the school day will look this year.

“We’re going to continue with multiple entry drop offs and pickups, and our cleaning and hand sanitizing will remain.” In addition, students will be in small groups so that if a student tests positive for COVID-19, the entire class will not have to quarantine.

Frazier mentioned that approximately 680 students attended summer school across the county, and only one or two students and a couple of staff members had to be quarantined during that time.

As far as personal responsibility, Frazier noted that the COVID sick leave policy has expired, and should a staff member test positive or be under quarantine restrictions, he or she will be required to utilize their own sick days or go without pay.

The quarantine requirements of the school system follow CDC guidelines in that should a student or staff member come in contact with someone who tests positive, as long as that person has received a vaccination, no quarantine will be required, unless symptoms are present.

In an interview prior to the board meeting, Safe School Coordinator Lorna Benson noted, “One result of last year’s precautions was a new understanding of how certain protocols are beneficial from an overall health perspective. Seating charts for classrooms, in the cafeteria and on school buses, wiping down areas a couple of times a day, washing and/or sanitizing hands – are just good ideas when you are talking about the health of our children who through no fault of their own also share germs.”

She added that some schools have opted to continue to promote a organized traffic flow in the hallways and to stagger times at lockers to help keep interactions below 15 minutes.

“We will be watching our numbers,” Frazier told members of the board. “If things need to be adjusted, we all need to be open.”

Board member John Hatler, of Martin pointed out a provision in the policy that allows for a student or parent to request face coverings and/or masks to be worn by anyone who comes into contact with that student, within three feet of distance. He then questioned how that was going to be enforced.

Frazier stated, “If we have parents that request us to wear masks, we’ll do that, or we’ll continue to stay apart.”

Hatler then asked Frazier if he foresaw any pushback from educators on those potential requests. To that, Frazier said, “They have two choices.” Those choices are, according to Frazier, either don’t go within three feet of that student or wear a face covering.

After some other discussion, Hatler then brought up a valid point about the potential for staff and students to bully or shame students who choose to wear masks and/or request staff wear masks.

“If people want to wear a mask, they need to be able to wear them and nobody say anything.” On the other hand, Hatler said those who choose not to as well should not be singled out.

Board vice-chair Josh Moore stated, “There needs to be zero tolerance on that.”

Frazier did admit that cleaning the buildings properly was going to be an issue because of staffing shortages with the company the school system contracts with. “The reality is, they’re having a hard time hiring people in Weakley County to do the work,” Frazier said. The company recently had to bring in a large crew from Middle Tennessee to finish cleaning the buildings after summer school and before registration.

“I’ve been in conversation with the owner of the company and voiced our concerns, and we hope they’re going to be able to hire people.”

Board member Martin Hamlin, of Sharon, who is a physician’s assistant in Jackson expressed his concerns saying, “I think it’s important to note in the last two weeks, we’ve seen our numbers go up over 400%, related to COVID.” Hamlin went on to say the new variant seems to be more contagious, and it is affecting children more than adults.

“The last two weeks have been pretty horrible,” Hamlin said. “I think we’re being a little optimistic if we relax at all.”

Hamlin then went on to say that if the new Delta variant follows the pattern it took in India, “we’re expecting about six to eight weeks of a pretty rough go before we actually see a break.”

As Hamlin was speaking from his professional point of view, noticeable nods were seen in the room, which was full of educators, administrators and parents.

“I don’t want people to completely let their guard down and think this is over with, because it’s obviously not,” Hamlin said. “Out of all the admissions I had last night, 40% were COVID-related.”

Frazier agreed with Hamlin saying he had a conference call with Le Bonheur, “and they’re saying the same thing; the next month is going to be a surge. Then, their prediction is it will calm back down until probably the first of the year.”

Despite the concerns, all members of the board voted to approve the reopening plan as it stood with no changes with the understanding that they will look at the numbers every day and make adjustments as necessary.

Regarding the potential for a mask mandate, Frazier mentioned that TN Gov. Bill Lee is adamant about schools being open and not requiring masks. “They are threatening various things,” Frazier said.

“What we don’t want to do is have to close schools,” Frazier said. Whatever it takes, even if the board must have a special-called meeting a week or two into the school year, they must be willing, Frazier said.

Parents will be notified as the school system receives information as well. “We’re planning on sending information out to parents about what we know about the Delta variant. We don’t want them to be caught off-guard,” Frazier said.

For further details on the reopening plans, see “Reopening Plans 2021-22” under the News tab at www.weakleyschools.com.

Unless there is a special-called meeting, the next Weakley County School Board meeting will take place Sept. 2 at 5 p.m. The location of that meeting is yet to be determined.

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