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BOE opts for Aug. 3 reopening plan

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Come Monday, Aug. 3, when Washington County Schools are set to reopen, the county school system will have three options for the way in which it will conduct school.

The plan includes three scenarios: the school could fully reopen with social distancing guidelines in place, the school schedule would be staggered to prevent large numbers of students in one area or an online, distanced learning plan could be enacted. 

The BOE adopted the three-option plan during its Thursday, July 2, regularly scheduled meeting in a 7-2 vote. Board members Annette Buchanan, Jason Day, Mary Beth Dellinger, Todd Ganger, David Hammond, Mitch Meredith and Phillip McLain voted in favor of the motion. Board members Chad Fleenor and Keith Ervin voted in opposition.

Washington County Director of School Bill Flanary said which plan the school adopts will depend on the number of COVID-19 cases in the county when school starts. 

“The scenario chosen will depend on the COVID-19 infection rate,” Flanary said. “I am further asking that the board authorize my office to make such changes to the reopening plan as may be necessary between now and Aug. 3 due to COVID infection patterns as it abides by the regional health department or subsequent to an executive order issued by Gov. Lee.”

Flanary also said parents have the choice of online learning. He said he anticipated 20 to 25% of Washington County’s students to attend school online.

In the first two scenarios, bus drivers will take temperatures of students with an infrared thermometer before they can enter the bus and both students and bus drivers will be required to wear masks. Flanary said masks will not be mandatory inside the building.

However, some board members were concerned about bus drivers adding temperature checks to their list of duties while on the job.

“I think they have enough on their plate,” Fleenor said. “Plus, I’m concerned if they pick up a rider who has an increased temperature and they’re standing there at the bus stop … I just don’t feel comfortable adding to what the bus drivers normally have to do.”

Flanary said, should a student have a fever, the bus driver would leave the student with the parent or guardian if possible. If that’s not an option, the student would be taken to the school to contact his or her parent or guardian.

Flanary also added that the health department advised school systems not to take temperatures in big groups outside of the school. 

“The health department doesn’t suggest taking temperatures at the school because kids will congregate in larger numbers … we are going to try to check every car rider that comes in the building,” Flanary said. “We have the equipment to do it, but what we don’t want to do is have 100 kids standing outside.”

Some board members also had issues with requiring bus riding students and bus drivers to wear a mask.

“It’s everybody’s choice,” Ervin said. “It should be left up to the parent.”

Before the three-option plan was adopted, Fleenor made a motion to make masks completely optional and take out the part of the plan that would require bus drivers to take student temperatures. That motion failed in a 5-4 vote. Day, Ervin, Fleenor and Hammond voted in support of the motion. Buchanan, Dellinger, Ganger, Meredith and McLain voted in opposition.

“I deeply oppose that,” Flanary said before the vote. “I know I’m not an elected official. I vehemently oppose that statement. That is for the safety of the children of Washington County Schools.”

Dellinger, along with Meredith, said she felt the school system needed to be more cautious than not.

“I think we just need to rule on the side of safety,” Dellinger said. “I don’t support taking out anything until we see what’s happening. Right now (COVID cases are) spiking in Tennessee.”

Flanary said he would report back to the BOE before any new decisions regarding the reopening plan were made.

The next school board meeting is set for Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 5:30 p.m.