The Franklin County School Board intends to find out what it would take to having students return to school five days a week, while allowing households that have chosen all virtual learning to continue that course.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the school system is going to make that leap. But after hearing about complaints from frustrated parents and overwhelmed teachers, and accounts of high school students falling behind and failing because they aren’t keeping up with online coursework, the board tasked the school administration with assembling a plan that outlines what such a change would entail — even if it involves difficult-to-fund measures like hiring additional staff.
The board directed the school staff to present this plan at a special meeting to be held 5 p.m. on Oct. 26.
“Everyone is struggling. Everyone is getting tired,” said Snow Creek District Representative G.B. Washburn during Monday night’s regular school board meeting. He first proposed holding the special meeting. “I move that the administration brings to us plans to have kids back on site learning at either four or five days a week.”
Though the discussion that followed between board members and staff at times grew contentious, the board ultimately endorsed the idea with a unanimous vote.
A second motion by Member-At-Large Penny Blue, incorporating a proposal by Boone District Representative Donna Cosmato, ordered that parents and teachers be surveyed about their preferences, and specifically that parents be asked whether they would be willing to personally provide transportation for their children. The board also passed this unanimously after a long discussion.
Earlier in the meeting, a request by Superintendent Mark Church for the creation of a new technology administrator position to manage issues with virtual learning platforms did not receive unanimous support. The position will be funded for two years by a $45,000 grant from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and by additional coronavirus relief funds provided through the state.
Church said that the school administration needs someone focused solely on making sure online instruction is working properly and curriculums are being uploaded. “It’s a big hole for us,” he said. “We have people who have taken it on but they have other jobs as well.”
The person in this position could organize and develop the county’s virtual learning programs long term, Church said. “Online instructions aren’t going away. It’s getting more and more complex.”
Board members skeptical of the proposal suggested that one extra administrator wouldn’t effectively address the issues teachers are having with conducting online learning. Gills Creek District Representative Jon Atchue made the motion to grant Church’s request, which ultimately passed 5-3, with Blue, Washburn and Vice Chairman Jeff Worley voting to deny.
Other matters presented at Monday’s meeting:
n In an update on the schools’ situation with regard to preventing the spread of COVID-19, Director of Operations Jason Guilliams made note of the more than 500 cases recorded in the county as of Monday, but added, “we have not seen that degree of increase in the schools.” The school system at that moment had 11 active cases, four staff and seven students, he said. The week before, grades 6-12 went all virtual because about 30 staff members had to self-quarantine. All staff members should be back by Oct. 19.
n Atchue presented a plan to build a consensus with the Franklin County Board of Supervisors on moving forward with a new center for the high school’s career and technical education programs. At present most of the classes are held in a facility called the West Campus, across Tanyard Road from the high school, which everyone agrees is too small to accommodate the demand. Efforts to address the problems in years past have stalled over cost issues. Atchue’s presentation suggested the West Campus could be re-purposed into a behavioral center to help with the county’s high cost of compliance with the Children’s Services Act, which governs matters like foster care and private day school placements for special education children.
n Church proposed that a budget carryover of about $1.7 million from fiscal year 2019-20 be used in part to give one-time, year-end bonuses totaling about $1.4 million to teachers and staff. The school board unanimously endorsed the idea, but the Franklin County Board of Supervisors will have to sign off on the proposal for it to become reality.
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