Greeneville City Schools students will not return to classrooms when the system begins its academic year Aug. 5, Director of Schools Steve Starnes announced Tuesday at the Greeneville City Board of Education meeting.
Because Greene County is currently in the red zone in the district’s plan for returning to school, indicating substantial community spread of COVID-19, the school system will be fully online when classes start.
Substantial spread is defined in the district’s Framework for Safe Reopening of Schools as an average rate per 100,000 of 11 or more new COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days for a period of 3 consecutive days.
Starnes said data will be reevaluated for a possible switch to allow students in school buildings on Aug. 24. Starnes said a decision will be announced the week of Aug. 17 to allow parents time to plan and make childcare arrangements if necessary.
Starnes shared in his director’s report that while all students will begin the school year online according to the framework document, 612 students have registered for the fully online mode of learning. Of that number 280 are in kindergarten through fifth grade, 158 are middle school students and 174 are in high school.
Due to a copyright issue Starnes said the district’s online learning academy will not be called the Greeneville Online Academy of Learning (GOAL) as previously discussed. Instead it will be called Excellence Driven by Greeneville City Schools (EDGE).
Starnes said most of the instruction through EDGE, aside from some high school elective courses, will be delivered by Greeneville City Schools educators, who will be “compensated for going above and beyond.”
The board granted Starnes authority to make changes to the Framework for Safe Reopening of Schools document as necessary in response to new information as it is released. This measure eliminates the need for a called board meeting in the event that new information affects the framework document.
“It’s best to make changes quickly. It could be hard to get everyone together for a meeting every time information changes,” Board Member Josh Quillen said.
Board Chair Cindy Luttrell also noted that action could be delayed if a called board meeting was required to make changes to the document.
Starnes will notify the board of any changes as they are made.
Shortly before the meeting, Gov. Bill Lee issued new recommendations for Tennessee schools to reopen safely, and Starnes discussed recent guidance from the Tennessee Department of Health, updated July 23, and from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Starnes which said said will be factored into the framework document.
Changes include the recommendation that all staff wear cloth face coverings at all times while on campus unless medically prevented from doing so. Masks will also be recommended for elementary school students while in school buildings, and it is recommended students are allowed time outside where social distancing is possible and masks can be removed for some time during the school day.
The board also voted to officially suspend several policies for the 2020-21 school year. The policies, including some related to attendance, field trips and public access to school facilities, were in conflict or could present conflict with the district’s framework document or executive orders from the governor’s office.
A dress code policy was also updated to reflect the recommendation for the use of face masks in school.
A purchase of Zoom videoconferencing software for the upcoming school year was also approved by the board at a cost of $15,000 to be covered through CARES Act funds.
The district began using Zoom to continue education after schools closed in March. At that time it was provided for free through the Education Networks of America.
I.T. Operations Administrator Chuck Broyles said that other videoconferencing software was considered, but Zoom was chosen as it is was determined to be more user friendly for young students than the other options.
Assistant Director for Instruction Suzanne Bryant said classes taught through Zoom will be recorded and uploaded to Canvas, the learning management system in use by the district, for students to access later if they cannot attend the class at the time it is being broadcast. Bryant said another benefit of Zoom for online learning is that teachers can see all of their students in the call and interact with them.
The cost was factored into the district’s CARES Act funding application. Broyles said the license purchase will give the district videoconferencing ability for the next year and will allow all teachers to use the software with no limit on the number of students who can join a call.
The board also approved the purchase of 12 new cafeteria tables for Tusculum View Elementary School and lockers for students in first and second grades at the school.
The cafeteria tables will cost $17,565, with $14,637.50 to be covered by the Tusculum View Elementary School Greeneville Schools In Action (GSIA) organization. The district will cover the remaining cost of $2,927.50.
The lockers, which Tusculum View Principal Dr. Lana Luttrell said will help reduce the spread of germs by giving first and second grade students a closed compartment for their belongings so they do not touch other students’ things, will cost $11,760 and will be paid for by the school. Luttrell said much of the funding came from Box Tops fundraising.
At the start of the meeting Starnes and the board recognized a donation of $10,000 to the Family Resource Center from retired Greeneville City Schools educator and principal Ken Fay.
Fay said the funding came from his late mother’s estate, 10% of which she wanted to go to charity. Fay said his mother would be happy with the work being done at the center.
“We appreciate your generosity and that of your mother,” Starnes said to Fay.
The next regularly scheduled meeting for the Greeneville City School Board is Aug. 25 at 6 p.m.