The Franklin County School Board intends for the parents who did not choose all-virtual learning to be able to send their children back to school four days a week starting Jan. 26, 2021, come COVID or high water.
A lengthy, tense, passionate and at at times pointedly personal back-and-forth among the eight school board members during the Nov. 9 board meeting culminated, after some prompting from outgoing schools Superintendent Mark Church, in a decision that passed unanimously.
That said, the decision was a statement of a goal rather than a fleshed-out plan. The motion made by Snow Creek District Representative G.B. Washburn, incorporating suggestions from Church and from other school board members, directed staff to create a plan that:
Returns students from households that want in-person instruction back to physically attending classes four days a week starting Jan. 26, reserving the fifth day for virtual learning.
Follows American Association of Pediatrics guidelines of keeping a distance of 3 feet or more between desks wherever feasible.
Makes masks and shields mandatory in spaces where they’re needed.
Investigates whether additional buildings in the county that do not belong to the school system can be used to increase class space.
Continues all-virtual learning for those families that have made that choice.
According to staff reports, there so far have been no instances of the virus being transmitted person-to-person within the school system.
Earlier in the Nov. 9 meeting, schools staff gave a presentation for a detailed plan that would allow in-person students to return to class four days a week dependent on the number of COVID-19 cases being reported in the county at any given time. That plan was rejected 6-2, with Vice Chairman Jeff Worley and Gills Creek District Representative Jon Atchue its only supporters.
Objections were multiple, with Union Hall District Representative P.D. Hambrick suggesting that the plan would not work as the conditions it set for returning to school four days a week were too high a bar to jump, while member-at-large Penny Blue questioned why no effort had been made to identify additional buildings in the county that could be used for holding classes.
A second proposal started by Washburn to reopen four days a week using mandatory mask-wearing as the only counter-measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus died in a 4-4 impasse.
At the start of the meeting, the board heard criticism from parents, staff and even a middle school student that the hybrid schedule the school currently follows — in which pupils attend in person only two days a week — is not working out well for anyone.
Health and physical education teacher Andy Flora told the board, “I don’t think I’ve ever given that many Fs in my whole professional career. So the current system is not working and I do miss my kids.”
Board members, regardless of where their opinions fell on opening classrooms to students for more days, seemed generally to feel the same way.
A prompt by Church for the board to weigh whether to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines of 6-foot social distancing or the American Association of Pediatrics recommendation of 3 feet led to the final compromise.
“It may seem chaotic up here and it is. It takes working through this kind of thing to get to the best possible option for our children,” said school board Chairwoman Julie Nix. “We’re just trying to do the right thing.”