Sullivan County School Board discusses federal relief money, COVID update

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Sullivan County Schools students return to class on Aug. 9, but school board members were finalizing plans on how to use federal COVID-19 relief money at a work session on Thursday night.

The board discussed several items they will vote on next week on Aug. 5.

Most pressing was how the district will use millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund. That money was allocated as part of the CARES Act.

It provides millions of dollars to the district in three rounds over the next four years. The district has about $600,000 left from the first round. Funds from the second and third rounds must be spent in 2024 and 2025, respectively.

The district plans to put an emphasis on two key areas: student comfort/school infrastructure and learning loss from the pandemic.

Interim Director of School Evelyn Rafalowski said students, parents and staff can expect improvements to school infrastructure.

“Hopefully no more window air conditioners, having good quality air HVAC systems,” Rafalowski said.

The board was presented with several new HVAC systems and technological upgrades at several schools in the ESSER budget.

She said the district is concerned about finding contractors for the installation because those companies are currently having trouble hiring workers.

The State of Tennessee mandates that 20 percent of funding goes to learning loss in students from the pandemic. The district will look at several different options to help students, but will primarily focus on tutoring.

With the delta variant on the minds of many as students return for a full year of in-person class, Rafalowski said she was confident with the district’s mitigation efforts. Sullivan County Schools recommends students and staff were masks, but they are not required.

“We’ll continue to utilize those and make adjustments in the future if needed,” Rafalowski said.

Rafalowski said she receives weekly briefings from the Sullivan County Health Department. The CDC’s new guidance on masking in indoor spaces for K-12 schools was not discussed.

The board also heard a proposed grant that would install two semi-permanent COVID-19 testing units at East Middle School and West Ridge High School. An additional mobile unit would also be available for hotspots.

Rafalowski said she has advised the board to pass those measures on August 5th.

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