The Franklin County School Board heard updates from Superintendent Dr. Mark Church, as well as the middle and high school principals on the start to the school year Monday night.
Church reported to the board that since classes resumed Sept. 8 there had been “some exposure” with one staff member testing positive for COVID-19 and those who had been in close proximity to the staff member were informed and quarantined.
Benjamin Franklin Middle School Principal Dr. Jami Clements told the board the start to the school year had been smooth so far.
“The students are just happy to be back in the building,” Clements said. “We were expecting to have some resistance to the masks, and honestly, we have not had any.”
Clements said the temperature checks had been conducted without any issues and the biggest challenge so far was the new technology with CANVAS and helping parents to understand the learning platform.
Franklin County High School Principal Jon Crutchfield echoed Clements. He said the high school had also expected issues with masks, but so far had not had any other than some tearing, and said administrators were encouraging students to have a back-up mask in their book bag just in case. Crutchfield said the school also had a supply of masks for those in need.
Both principals said no fevers had been detected as a result of the temperature checks.
Board member Penny Blue, member at-large, said she had received an email from a teacher stating the workload of teaching virtual and in-person was too demanding. Board members and Church acknowledged that teachers in the district are all working a demanding schedule and pledged to monitor the situation so teachers don’t burn out.
“Without a doubt it is demanding,” Church said. “Our teachers are being asked to do a lot. It is teaching in a different format and part of the complexity is it is new. We’re trying to — as I use the analogy — we are building a plane as we are flying it, so it is difficult.”
Board chair Julie Nix (Blue Ridge District) said she recognizes many teachers are stressed.
“They are working way more than their contract hours right now,” Nix said. “I don’t want anyone out in the public thinking they are not working as hard because they only have these days (students are in school). They are working around the clock.”
Assistant Superintendent Sue Rogers said no elementary teachers were teaching both 100% virtual students and A/B schedule students, but Church said there may be some teachers at the higher levels who have specialties such as Latin, who are the only teacher for that subject who do teach both sets of students.
It was because of the amount of teachers the district employs that the division capped virtual enrollment. Church said the high school was capped at 700 students being able to go 100% virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were more students who wanted to go virtual, but there were not any available slots.
Board members agreed to continue to monitor how the first nine weeks progresses, as well as data from the Virginia Department of Health and will revisit discussions on how to proceed with the second nine weeks in October.
In other business during the meeting, the board approved a two-month premium holiday for dental insurance participants at the recommendation of McGriff Insurance Services. The district was approximately $30,000 shy of being able to offer a premium holiday for all medical insurance participants. A premium insurance holiday means employees enrolled in those benefits will get a break in paying for their dental insurance; in this case FCPS employees enrolled in dental coverage will get a two-month break.
FCPS Director of Business and Finance David Terry presented a list of budget initiatives to the board that totaled more than $7 million. The largest item on the budget list at $1.4 million was a step increase for all employees. The second largest item on the list, at $780,000, was to fully fund the bus replacement program, an item that was proposed last year that was not funded.
Board member Donna Cosmato (Boone District) called the amount of the proposed items “staggering” while board member G.B. Washburn (Snow Creek District) said it was just a working list and would be whittled down as the budget process continues.
The next regular meeting of the school board is scheduled for Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at the school board office.
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