By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Board of Education is waiting until Feb. 1 to discuss how it will continue its school plan, but that hasn’t stopped some parents from requesting a return to in-person schooling.
Abby Wilson, whose daughter is a Washington County student, is the most recent parent to address the board about its school schedule plan. Wilson spoke at the BOE’s Thursday, Jan. 14 meeting, asking board members to consider the emotional wellbeing of county students.
“Are we doing the best for our students?,” Wilson said. “Anxiety, depression, disconnect, loneliness all keep rising in our kids right now. More are signing up for therapy because kids and parents don’t know how to manage anymore and needs aren’t being met.”
At previous meetings, BOE members also mentioned a drop in healthy staff members as a reason to enter a virtual schedule. Wilson said she hoped with the rise in COVID-19 vaccinations, the board would consider returning to an in-person schedule.
“I would like to hope now that teachers have had the opportunity to receive the vaccine if they wanted, the number of quarantined teachers could be significantly reduced,” Wilson said.
The BOE voted not to add the school schedule discussion to its Jan. 14 agenda, but Board Member Mary Beth Dellinger responded to Wilson’s comments, saying she felt the board should add staff members to potentially help get back to an in-person schedule.
“We need to really think about making a commitment to putting more staff in our schools, more instructional assistants, more people that can help out,” Dellinger said. “That’s one of the biggest problems. These principals can’t staff a lot when employees are quarantined. They need more people there and they can be used to help with their at-risk students. I think this would help get our kids back a lot quicker.”
Students have exited the Washington County School System and others since COVID-19 arose in the United States. Wilson said her daughter, like others, could be next.
“My child has only had in-person learning 10 days,” Wilson said, “But in those 10 days, she bonded with her teacher and several peers when it was abruptly taken away … If there continues to be virtual only, we will be joining the other 530 other students who have left this system since August 2020.
“I don’t know the exact number you get in funding per student. I do know a drop in students means a drop in funding.”
Flanary said he felt once the county sees a decrease in COVID-19 cases and school returns to an in-person schedule, students will also come back to the school system.
“Over 90 percent of Tennessee’s public school systems have lost students since last March,” Flanary said. “A handful have increased. Our guess is that most of our losses are through homeschooling … Once we get to normal, we feel that we’ll get those kids back. Our loss of students by percentage was less than the state average. We’re not in great shape, but we’re in better shape than most.
Flanary also said the school system has not seen the financial hardships it might have expected.
“As far as losing money, we’re not,” Flanary said. “Our budget has actually increased. We will be funded next year on last year’s budget numbers … it looks like the money isn’t going to be an issue.”
At the Jan. 4 BOE meeting, Flanary said the school system expects to also receive federal assistance, which could help with projects such as ionization units, technology needs or other projects listed on the board’s five-year capital needs plan.
Also during the Jan. 4 meeting, Flanary’s school plan recommendation included that the board decide at the Jan. 14 meeting whether preK-4 students could return to in-person schooling if COVID-19 cases were down enough in the county. Instead, the board voted to remain virtual through Feb. 8 with a meeting to discuss the plan on Feb. 1.
In other news, the school board also received a note from Bill Flanary stating his intent to retire after June 30, 2021.
Flanary has been the director of schools since 2018 and has been with the Washington County School System for 39 years.
The next BOE meeting is set for Feb. 1 with a workshop on Jan. 26. To attend the livestream of those meetings, go to wcde.org or https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDnmnXQAmOV6q16q0xrEpPA.