UPDATE: During its Tuesday, Nov. 3, called meeting, the Washington County Board of Education opted for Washington County Schools to operate on a virtual schedule until Nov. 30.
By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County School System’s number of quarantined faculty, staff and students has dropped since last week, but the district is aiming to decrease that number still.
Washington County Director of Schools Bill Flanary said as of Monday morning, the school system had 896 students and faculty and staff quarantined due to COVID-19 concerns with 50 confirmed cases. On Tuesday, Oct. 27, Flanary said at the Washington County Board of Education’s called meeting the system had over 900 people quarantined and 53 with confirmed COVID-19 cases.
“You may recall we had over 1,050 quarantines (last week). So that’s a significant drop,” Flanary said. “We still have 50 people that are confirmed positive for COVID-19 and that includes 36 students and 13 faculty or staff members.”
Due to last week’s increase in the number of people quarantined in the school system, Flanary made the decision to send the schools back to a virtual schedule on Thursday, Friday and Monday. Because of the election, schools were closed on Tuesday.
“I can’t prove cause and effect, but it stands to reason that not having people in the buildings will result in a lower number of quarantines because of the way we contact trace,” Flanary said. “I feel like our decision to go back to full virtual for at least a couple of days has had the expected positive effect on the quarantine rate.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 27, the school board discussed the influx of quarantines and cases in the system. Because the discussion was not on the agenda, the board did not make a decision regarding a school plan. The school board scheduled a called meeting to discuss a school plan on Tuesday, Nov. 2, after press time for the Herald & Tribune.
Flanary said he typically shuts a school down if a school is without enough “healthy adults” to keep the school operating. That was about to be the case, he said, with Daniel Boone, Gray Elementary and Jonesborough Middle School when the schools began operating on a virtual schedule on Thursday.
“When we made the decision to go full virtual, at least three schools were very close to not having enough employees for school to operate,” Flanary said. “As far as just teachers, we were getting pretty close at Daniel Boone, Jonesborough Middle and Gray was getting really close as well.”
Finding substitute teachers and bus drivers for those sick and in quarantine has also been a major concern for the school system.
“Finding substitutes that can come in and take over has been a struggle as has finding substitute bus drivers,” Flanary said. “Both areas have been a problem. Our kitchens have been hit. A lot of our support people, maintenance, custodial, all the support areas have been bit. We are particularly looking for drivers, cafeteria workers and substitute teachers.”
The future of winter sports is also to be determined.
Fall sports, such as cross country and football, are currently wrapping up the regular season, but winter sports, such as basketball and wrestling, are up ahead.
Flanary said the board will likely address the future of winter sports at its athletic committee meeting set for Wednesday, Nov. 4, as well as at the regularly scheduled board meeting set for Thursday, Nov. 5.
“It’s a different environment,” Flanary said. “Since both (basketball and wrestling) are indoors, it’s a different protocol. We’ll look at what TSSAA is advising and I will leave it with the board.”
As for the future of the school system’s school schedule as it relates to the pandemic, Flanary maintains that there is no answer that will please the whole of the community, but safety is the priority.
“We’ve got to consider health and safety above all other considerations,” Flanary said. “Not everybody will be happy with the decisions I make, the decisions the school board makes, the decisions the principals make, but please understand that the health and safety of children and adults within our schools must be our No. 1 concern.”
The school board will hold its regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be livestreamed at wcde.org.