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Even as some local educators remain at home due to COVID-19, either ill with the disease or on precautionary quarantine, many Grady County students are preparing to return to their schools Tuesday, Sept. 8, for the first time since the buildings closed in March due to the pandemic.
Those students who are coming back to school for in-person learning will be required to wear masks whenever it is impossible to social distance, Grady County school superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard informed board members at a called meeting Tuesday night.
According to the superintendent, the mask requirement will be handled similar to violations of the school dress code. On a first violation, teachers and administrators will discuss the matter with the student; on a second violation, contact will be made with the parent or guardian; on a third violation, the student will be required to attend virtual school and will not be permitted back on the school campus.
“The health and safety of our students and our employees is critical. We want to do everything possible for the return to school to be as safe as possible and not contribute to the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Gilliard said.
The superintendent told board members again on Tuesday night his greatest concern remains not having sufficient adult staff members at school to keep the schools open. Just last week more than 30 school personnel were under quarantine and schools had not even reopened yet.
As of Tuesday of this week, three Cairo High School administrators and one Eastside Elementary School administrator who all tested positive for COVID-19 remained at home, and 12 teachers and/or paraprofessionals were still in quarantine.
Dr. Gilliard said he is hopeful that if an outbreak of cases of the virus develops, the system could close individual schools and not the entire system.
The superintendent said that a decline in new cases had been observed and he noted that the trends were positive.
Board member Jeff Worsham questioned the superintendent about some local families considering enrolling in other schools or other school systems due to concerns about the local virtual school offering.
According to Worsham, some parents have been misinformed that the county’s virtual learning program does not address the needs of children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Dr. Gilliard said that was absolutely not true, however, he said that there is additional work and responsibilities for K-5 teachers that is not required of teachers who teach grades 6-12.
The superintendent said that was one of the driving factors in delaying the reopening of school until Sept. 8 and the thought behind ending the school day early in order to provide teachers additional time to plan and prepare.
“The younger teachers who are more comfortable with new technology are doing fine, the older ones, like me, are having to work through it, but everyone is working together. It’s going to be tough, but I think we will get through it,” Dr. Gilliard said.
As of Tuesday, 1,329 of the system’s approximately 4,600 students will not be returning to the school buildings, but will instead receive instruction through virtual learning.
On Tuesday night, Dr. Gilliard updated the board on what the system is doing to assist households that do not have access to high speed internet. The system has 75 hot spots available to distribute to families and Dr. Gilliard said he is working on a plan of how to best prioritize that distribution.
The system also has 20 access points that will be deployed throughout the county possibly in churches or volunteer fire departments. There will also be wireless access available at each of the county’s seven school campuses.
“It may not be the most convenient situation, but we will have access for those who need it,” Dr. Gilliard said.
In other business, the board:
‰Approved the hiring of the following personnel: Ashley Bearden – paraprofessional at Shiver Elementary School; Elizabeth Kelly – parapro. at Shiver; Laura Brown – teacher at Shiver; Courtney Miller – parapro. at Southside Elementary School; Saniqua Layne – teacher at Southside; Lincoln Dawson – middle grades teacher at Washington Middle School; Jennifer Brock – parapro. at Whigham Elementary School; James Dudley – ISS teacher/coach at Cairo High School; Alexandria Tise – science teacher at C.H.S.; Angela Bearden – business ed. teacher at C.H.S.; Raphael Smith – special education teacher at W.M.S.; Anthony Mims – school resource officer at W.M.S.
‰Accepted the resignations of Joseph Walden- bus driver; Jasmine Monroe – parapro. at Eastside Elementary School; Isaiah Taulbee – teacher/coach at Cairo High School; and Christina Alicea – parapro. at Southside Elementary School.
‰Approved the transfers of Amy Starr from business ed. teacher at Cairo High School to technology specialist at the central office and Michael Singletary from assistant principal at Northside Elementary School to instructional technologist at the central office.