Jones County Board of Education members took steps to spend an additional half million dollars at their August business meeting to make going back to school safer for students and faculty members, but they also asked students to do their part.
Acting on the recommendation of School Superintendent Chuck Gibson, board members unanimously agreed to the requirement of face coverings for students who are returning to classes.
A late addition to Jones County schools’ reopening plan was the purchase of plexiglass sneeze guards that are to be placed on student desks.
The Aug. 11 meeting was called to order by board chairman Ginger Bailey. In her report, Bailey said she was happy that schools would open Monday and thanked everyone for their hard work.
“It took an entire school system for it to come about,” Bailey said. “We have challenges to face, but I know you all will make it a successful year.”
Board members Dr. Nancy Nash, Mike Gordon, Alfred Pitts and Kim Washburn echoed Bailey’s appreciation for school staff and employees and added their prayers for teachers, students and their families.
Gibson started his superintendent’s report with schedules for drivethrough and virtual open houses at the schools. He said the school system does listen to public concerns, and the issue of face coverings at the schools had been revisited.
Prior to the board meeting, masks had been a recommendation but not a requirement.
Gibson said he had talked to state and local public health officials before bringing his recommendation to the board.
“We are at the point to require face coverings for staff and students. We need to build on the experience of others,” he said.
The superintendent said it is understood that they will have to be flexible for pre-K and younger students, but the requirement is for face coverings for all indoor activities.
“We know that students can be positive while being asymptomatic. Face coverings make a difference,” he added.
Bailey asked for comments from board members. She said they came to the consensus of the masks to try not to have to go to all virtual classes.
“We want to keep everyone safe,” she said.
Pitts said Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods recommended the mask requirement.
“We may hear some repercussions, but we’ve seen what’s happened when others have not required masks. We need to protect our teachers and students,” he said.
Nash said she was in full support of masks.
“We are not a medical facility. Medical facilities wear full PPE because that’s how contagious this disease is,” she said. “We are about to bring hundreds inside buildings, and we are asking the community and teachers to get on board.”
Gordon said he supported using masks, but his only concern is how masks affect communication.
“We have to make sure our teachers are heard and understood. We need effective communication,” he said.
Gibson said he agreed. He said he felt that is where common sense needed to be used.
“We don’t want to take steps backward; we want to move forward,” he said
Bailey said educators need to make sure instruction and learning continue.
“We have to make sure teachers are able to teach,” she said. “We have creative teachers, and they will work out a way to make students comfortable.”
Jones County High School Principal Lance Rackley presented a draft of a hybrid plan he said could be enacted if it becomes necessary to reduce student contact. He said the model would only apply to students in grades 9-12 and would not put pressure on parents for childcare with the youngest student being 14.
The plan would be an alternative, if it is needed that would reduce class size by half.
Rackley said high school students change classes seven times each day, and one positive student could necessitate the quarantine of 30-50 students.
With the hybrid plan, students would be divided into two groups with alternating days of face-to-face and virtual learning.
Rackley said the plan would also work for students with dual enrollment.
“Its important for all of us to be at school, but this would allow us to social distance,” he said.
Under the hybrid proposal, students from group A would attend in-person classes Monday and Tuesday and students from group B Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be a day to allow for cleaning and disinfection of the classrooms, and all students would work virtually. The principal emphasized that all students would receive the same lessons whether they were being taught face to face or virtually.
He said they had been looking at other school systems and decided another option was needed, an in-between option.
Pitts asked if students have the technology needed for the virtual classes.
Rackley said the high school does all it can to provide devices for students.
“Teachers are designing plans where a student could even use their phone if needed,” he said.
Bailey said all students signed up for the Virtual Academy have the ability for virtual learning, and Gibson also responded.
“We will meet the needs of our students,” the superintendent said.
Pitts said he liked the consideration of the ages of the students, and he also wanted to be considerate of faculty and staff.
“Good for you, thinking of this,” he said.
Nash said it was never more important to have parent cooperation.
“We need to take these precautions seriously,” she said.
Pitts said the only way to conquer the disease is to work together.
Dana Hutchison gave an update for the Virtual Academy, stating that 950 Jones County students opted for the all-virtual option for attending classes for the first semester.
Hutchinson said they were currently meeting with parents to get them familiar with the program and talking to them about the role of learning coaches.
She said facilitators make contact with the students. Hutchinson said families attend virtual training and meet the teachers. The general schedule is discussed and how students log into Open Office if they need help.
“Counselors are available for virtual students, also,” she said.
Hutchinson said students are required to spend a minimum of four hours of instruction a day, and their progress is checked each week. She said virtual teachers have full schedules.
“The best practice for students is to get into a routine,” she said. “This has been a team approach. It’s been a lot of work to getting to the point that we can start rolling.”
Hutchinson said open enrollment for the Virtual Academy for the second semester of school would begin in October.
Bailey said this was an opportunity to continue educating students even if they are not on campus.
Pitts said the Virtual Academy shows the quality of teachers who could put the program together in such a short period of time.
Gibson said it was truly remarkable.
Hutchinson said she believes they have created a good situation for families.
“Communication is very important. This is definitely a different scenario,” she said.
Jones County College and Career Academy CEO Laura Rackley presented the required budget for the Carl D. Perkins federal grant awarded to the academy.
She said the basic grant totaled $46,186, and the total federal allocation was $64,772. The academy also received state CTAE grants in the amount of $97,470. The agriculture grants totaled $15,235.
Rackley said the academy was able to offer limited labs this summer to allow students to complete their programs.
Raymond Braziel, Executive Director of Support Services, reported that sneeze guards had been ordered for cafeteria stations, the media center and all student desks. He said Chromebook covers had also been ordered.
Braziel said a student connectivity grant would be used to place 20 Wi-Fi transmitters in 18 different areas in Jones County to increase internet access. He said outside Wi-Fi access would be increased at every school.
Facilities and Maintenance Director Joe Evans updated projects at JCHS. He said the visitor field house is 70 percent complete, and the concession stand was in the process of being framed.
Evans said the football field is complete, and work is underway for fencing at the field. He said visitor bleachers were 60 percent complete, and lighting is being tied in. He said the lighting should be completed by the first of September.
The director said tenni courts and the track had been resurfaced and needed to set for 20 days. He said work had started for the restrooms at the baseball field.
Evans said they were in the final stages of improvements to the Fine Arts building that included sound and lighting and restrooms had been updated at JCHS.
“This all has been a long time coming,” he said.
Nash said she is lookin forward to a tour of the finished projects.
Jones County School System CFO Tonya Merritt presented the finance report. She said the report was as of July 31, which was 8.33 percent of the fiscal year.
The total revenues wer reported as $3,581,206 and total expenses $4,372,151. The total cash in the bank as of July 31 was $18,306,461. Merritt said the monthly average for SPLOST collections is $212,810.54.
Board of Education members unanimously approved nine projects.
• The purchase of student sneeze guards from The Pencil Grip for the estimated total of $38,160. The funding source for the project is CARES Act funds.
• The contract purchase of 90 chromebooks from Firefly Computer in the amount of $21,600. The funding source for the project is L4GA grant funds.
• The purchase of software programs by Turnitin in the amount of $15,500. The funding source for the software is L4GA grand funds.
• The purchase of intercom/door bells for school entrances from Atlanta Access Controls for visitor screening and crowd control in the office space. The estimated total cost of the contract is $22,425.85, and the funding source is SPLOST funds.
• The purchase of 413 auto flush valves from Noland Company for system toilets and urinals at an estimated cost of $51,625. The funding source is SPLOST funds.
• Authorization for a contract with Marler Plumbing for the installation of 413 auto flush valves in Jones County schools at an estimated cost of $3,717. The funding source for the project is SPLOST funds.
• Authorization for a contract with Watson Plumbing for the installation of touchless water fountains for an estimated cost of $14,250.
• Authorize contract with Ferguson Waterworks in the amount of $21,076.44 to provide required supplies to complete the drainage work at the football field.
• Authorize contract with a HVAC company deemed to be the best solution to install Global Plasma Systems throughout the school system at a price of no more than $350,000 to provide a safe learning and working environment for students and staff. The funding source for the project is SPLOST funds.
The meeting was adjourned after the vote for the action items to enter into closed session to discuss personnel.
The next meeting of the Board of Education is a work session Sept. 3 and regular Board meeting Sept. 8.
“We know that students can be positive while being asymptomatic. Face coverings make a difference.”
– Chuck Gibson, superintendent