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Going back to school: Board moves to extend holiday break

Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

 Carter County students got an unexpected Christmas gift from the school board last week – an extra week of Christmas break. Like any gift, though, they’ll have to pay for it eventually, and in this case the bill will come due this Spring. 

Students were originally scheduled to resume classes on January 4, but, as superintendent Dr. Ronnie Dotson explained, Governor Andy Beshear has ruled that students may begin returning to school buildings after January 11, even if the county is in the “red zone” for number of cases. Because students will be allowed to return to school buildings, the board moved to add the change to the agenda and then to approve the change to the calendar. While parents may still choose to keep their children home and continue with non-traditional instruction (NTI) if they feel that is better for their family, this “aggressive hybrid model”, as Dotson called it, will allow families to choose what works best for them. 

Choosing to return on January 11 instead of January 4 will increase the potential number of in-person school days for students whose families are choosing to send them in person. In addition this revised schedule will be beneficial for students who respond better to the structure of in-class instruction or who otherwise need to be in the school building. 

The last day of school for students will now be moved from May 20 to May 26. In addition February 15 and May 21, which were previously staff work days when students did not have to report to school, are now school days. 

Dotson said the district would take every step possible to keep students safe, noting that even when county infection numbers were at their highest points the “effect on schools (had been) minimal.”

Dotson also reported the results of a discussion with staff about the COVID-19 vaccine, which will be made available to all school staff if they choose to take the vaccination. Dotson said that currently just over half of staff plan to take the vaccine, with the other half planning to decline. He said, however, that he was encouraging more staff to sign up, noting that they could change their mind right up to the moment the shot was administered if they decided not to take the vaccine. However if they decline the vaccine and then decide they want one there may not be enough doses available to cover them. 

He also noted that – so far – no teachers have had to use any of their sick days to deal with COVID-19. If, however, teachers refuse the vaccine and then become ill with the virus they will most likely have to utilize their sick days, if they are still available. Once the vaccines are available, he said, teachers who refuse the vaccine but have misgivings about returning to school while the pandemic is still ongoing will also have limited options. At that point, he said, their options will likely be limited to either returning to work without the protection offered by a vaccine or resigning from their position. 

The board also moved to change their meeting days from the second Thursday of each month to the third Monday. The change was prompted by the schedule of a newly elected board member, whose work commitments won’t allow him to meet on Thursday. 

The board also heard from Judy Dotson on virtual holiday events that students at various schools participated in, including singing holiday songs and participating in other activities. In addition to things put together by individual schools, she said, the district had put together around 2.800 family activity bags for the holiday season that included things like treats, hot chocolate mixes, and supplies for making homemade Christmas ornaments. 

The next regular meeting of the Carter County Board of Education is scheduled for Monday, January 18, 2021 at 6 p.m. in the Central Office, though if COVID numbers warrant continued virtual meetings they will meet via teleconference and broadcast the meeting to their YouTube channel as they have done with other recent meetings. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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