By MARINA WATERS
To graduate this year as a high school senior in Washington County, it takes hard work throughout the school year and a couple of suspended board of education policies amid a national health crisis.
During the Washington County Board of Education’s meeting on Thursday, April 9, the board unanimously suspended policies on graduation requirements and the district’s grading system. Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said suspending those two policies is crucial for high school seniors who are hoping to graduate.
“If that (graduation) policy is still in place, there’s no way we’d have any graduates,” Flanary said. “And there are requirements (in the grading policy) that will not allow us to give students grades. We need to suspend those policies just for this year so that we can comply with what the state board did this afternoon.”
On Thursday, April 9, the State Board of Education approved emergency rules during the COVID-19 crisis including that high school seniors need 20 credits to graduate rather than 22. Those 20 credits include four in math, four in English, three in science, two in social studies and seven additional credit hours instead of nine. The rules also include that end-of-the-year exams will not be given and TCAP tests will not be required. High school students will also be given the grade they had as of March 20. A student can improve that grade through work done during the school closure, but the grade cannot be lowered.
High school seniors weren’t the only students the board considered during the school closure.
The board also unanimously approved a motion allowing Flanary and his staff to check chromebooks out to any Washington County student who might need it to complete school work during the recent closure. The board currently has a protocol in place to distribute chromebooks only to high school students. Flanary said he felt the school system currently has enough devices that are not being used for younger students to check out.
“I have a seventh grader,” Board member Annette Buchanan said. “She doesn’t need one of these, but there could be another kid in our community from Lamar who needs it who is in the fourth grade. I’m saying that (school staff) should be allowed to make that decision.”
Flanary said principals recently brought to his attention that numerous students, particularly on the south side of the county, cannot participate in their current online classwork because the program used by their teachers cannot be accessed through a smartphone and can only be used from a desktop or laptop.
“A dynamic has presented itself that I was not anticipating,” Flanary said. “As many as 50 percent of our students are unable to access online learning activities and it’s not because of connectivity. It’s because you can’t do it on a phone and people don’t have laptops and desktops like they did at one time.”
Flanary also said many students are opting to do their work in packets rather than online.
“About half of the kids are doing hard-copy packets,” Flanary said. “As of today, we had to enlist the help of graphic arts at Crockett because of the volume (of packets) going out of here is so great. So we’re going to incur some costs, but that’s okay because a lot of kids are taking advantage of it.”
Board member Chad Fleenor asked if the board could use money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to buy chromebooks for those schools in the system who still need them. Flanary said there is no telling when any money might come in, but the school system could utilize those funds for chromebooks.
“Going forward, we’ll probably need to increase the number of pieces of technology that we have,” Flanary said.
The board also voted to give $5 an hour more to Washington County Food Service kitchen managers who are working to feed local students during the school closure. Flanary said that task has been overwhelming for food service employees.
“Our workers are becoming a little overwhelmed,” Flanary said. “Kitchens that are normally serving a few hundred meals a day are now serving thousands of meals a day, particularly the kitchen managers. Some of them are showing up at 5 in the morning and working until late in the evening getting ready to take inventory and all the things that are required.”
On March 24, the board discussed hazard pay and how much to compensate those food service workers who are preparing meals during the school closure. In addition to receiving their normal compensation, the board opted to pay $10 an hour to 10 food service workers at each school site currently providing meals.
Board member David Hammond said he felt adding $5 more an hour was needed for kitchen managers after seeing how much they are doing to provide meals.
“It’s well deserved, “Hammond said. “We are invested in our people. And honestly, I think we owe it to these people.”
Board member Phillip McLain said he wanted to know how much this would cost while board member Todd Ganger suggested the board increase the number of workers. However, Flanary said other food service workers were not working at the cafeteria site for “good reason” and that soon the school system might enlist the help of volunteer teachers and administrators.
“We do have an ample supply of volunteers among the teaching and administrative staffs,” Flanary said. “We will very soon have to move some of those teacher volunteers into the kitchens to help the cafeteria staff.”
The next BOE meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28, at 5 p.m. That meeting will be held electronically and can be viewed at www.wcde.org.