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Going to school: Board discusses in-person learning and truancy

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

Carter County schools haven’t been meeting much over the past week, with heavy snow and ice disrupting electrical service – something that is necessary with the focus on online classes this year. But, once we’re on the other side of the bad weather, Superintendent Dr. Ronnie Dotson is hopeful that the school system can begin a return to limited in-person classes. 

Dotson discussed the plan with the board of education during their regular meeting last week. Dotson told the board that COVID-19 numbers are down across the county, which means the school could begin bringing more students back for in-person learning. Doing so, however, doesn’t mean the school system can relax standards. Dotson said that in addition to remaining vigilant with sanitation measures, schools would need to continue to observe social distancing guidelines as more students return to in-person learning. 

Dotson said the school would be sticking with their A/B schedule, which brings students back to school buildings on alternating days, with school days outside the school building reserved for online learning, at least through Spring Break. But, he said, the district may reconsider that schedule after the staff have all received their COVID vaccinations. 

Even with staggered in-person learning being offered, Dotson said, the district has found that more than half of students who could come on their prescribed day are choosing to work online from home rather than returning to school. 

“But it varies from school to school,” Dotson said. 

In addition to considering a push for more in-person schooling, Dotson said the district is considering a Saturday “math camp” because this is an area where teachers are noticing students struggling. Those Saturday “camps” could offer students an opportunity to work on those problem areas with a teacher. 

It isn’t just specific subjects like math where students are falling behind as a result of the pandemic though. Dotson said despite offering a variety of learning options for families – including in person classes, online classes, downloadable content, and worksheet packages – truancy has gone up during the pandemic. 

Some students, he told the board, are not doing their learning packets, logging in to online classes, or going in for in-person classes. Because of this, he said, the district has had to turn in some students’ and parents’ names to the court system, as they are legally required to do. 

In other action the board discussed financing on bonds and held a special meeting during the course of their regular meeting to take action on financial issues, including refinancing their bonds from a rate of 3.95 percent, which they are currently paying, to a rate of 1.75 percent. This could save the district anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 a year on those bonds. 

After going back into regular session, the board also moved to approve the application of window film on classroom windows, including interior doors, to make the glass “one-way.” The treatment will be used on all windows that do not have blinds. In addition to classroom privacy the one-way viewing will help with safety in the event of a school lockdown during an active shooter situation or other situation requiring students to shelter in place for safety.

The board also discussed possible uses for CARES funds, including upgrades to HVAC units that could help mitigate the spread of airborne virus. The cost for the upgrades could range anywhere from $3 million to $7 million per school, depending on the contractor and the heating system, according to information presented to the board. 

The board moved to go forward with preliminary steps for the installation of a new HVAC system for the East Carter Middle School and to look at various options. 

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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