JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) — Washington County Schools will remain virtual at least through Feb. 8.
The board of education voted Monday afternoon to continue virtual learning and reconvene on Feb. 1 to consider returning to in-person instruction.
“With us being out of school, our numbers of cases have been higher than since we were in school. So, obviously coming back tonight, there’s not really a question that we can return immediately that we made a decision to not come to school with lesser confirmed cases,” said Board Chair Jason Day. “It’s hard to have school when you don’t have enough staff to do it. If we’re at 71 cases roughly out of school, there’s no telling what it would be with everybody in school and I feel like dr. Flanary would have a hard time staffing the facilities.”
In November, the board voted to continue virtual learning through Jan. 8. Board members and school officials expressed concern about a possible surge in COVID-19 cases following the holidays.
“Over the holidays, we did have an increase in the numbers. In the past few days, we did see a decrease. We expect to see a little bit of an increase in the numbers with the holidays where people traveled and then hopefully after that we’ll start seeing a decline,” said Director of Coordinated School Health, Kelly Wagner.
School officials said 369 faculty, staff, and students are currently in quarantine or isolation or have been excluded due to symptoms. Specifically, that’s 271 students and 98 faculty and staff. Of those, 38 students and 27 faculty and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
At the beginning of the meeting, Director of Schools, Dr. Bill Flanary made a recommendation to start bringing students back on a staggered schedule after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. It was made into a motion and failed.
“The recommendation was just looking at the calendar, looking at what some of our neighboring school systems are doing, giving the board a little time to look at the infection rate and look at the quarantine rates… a little breathing room between now and the board meeting next week to see what they wanted to do with the school reopening plan,” Flanary said. “The plan would bring in 50 percent enrollment, a staggered schedule and the board chose to push that out a little bit further. I can’t fault them given what we’re seeing lately with infection rates spiking, even as late as today… probably a wise move.”
Some board members just want students back in class at 100% capacity.
“I don’t feel like they’re learning like they need to be. I feel like some of the families are not doing what they need to be doing and the kids need to be back in school,” said member Keith Ervin.
Throughout the pandemic, Ervin has advocated for putting students back in buildings, including voting against waiting until February to make the call.
“I wanted to take it a week at a time and just see if the numbers are going to keep getting higher,” Ervin said. “We may have missed it. We should have had maybe some more schooling through November, through October.”
Parents have raised concern about the board not having a plan or some type of thresh hold requirement allow students to come back.
“I wish we had a plan. I wish we knew how to make a plan,” Day said. “We’ve sat here for months and months and months and tried to decide… what’s the right answer and every month we come up with a dead end with the lack of help from the state department. From nurses, doctors… nobody has the answer.”
Others have also questioned how athletics can continue in-person with class being completely virtual.
“We made that decision early on. When we did that we felt like it was the right thing to do,” said Day. “There was a group of kids that worked hard. We felt like it was a little easier to social distance not necessarily on the ball court but during practice… I felt like it was easier there than it would be in a classroom. Did it make sense? We felt like at the time it did.”
Teachers in the county were able to receive the first round of the Covid-19 vaccine over the weekend.
“The covid-19 vaccine is the best and safest was to develop immunity to COVID 19 and that’s our first step in getting students back into the classroom,” Wagner said.
Some on the board also said they hope this will give teachers more time to receive the vaccine.
“There are a lot of unknowns right now,” said Mary Beth Dellinger. “By that time hopefully, a lot of our employees will have had their second vaccine and I know a lot of them… That’s very important to them.”
Director of Schools, Dr. Bill Flanary said he received his first dose this past Saturday.
“I don’t know how many have taken advantage of that yet but anecdotally and through social media, I’m hearing that a lot of us have,” he said. “I encourage, hope, plead, beg teachers to go get that shot unless there’s some medical reason that they shouldn’t… we can’t require it. I just hope that they do for our safety, for their safety so that we can get on the other side of this.”
The board will have their regular January meeting on Thursday, the 14th. They will have a workshop on the 26th to discuss numbers ahead of the February 1st meeting.