Wilson County Schools announced Dec. 9 that all schools would be going to remote learning effective Dec. 14 for the rest of the semester.
“The reason for this change in learning is due to an increasing number of students and staff affected by COVID-19, and out of extreme caution for keeping our school community healthy,” the district said in a letter sent to parents.
The move is for one week, as the last day of school before the Christmas break is Friday.
“It’s the intention for students in all of our schools to return to their respective teaching and learning models on Tuesday, January 5, 2021 (K-5 Traditional & Grades 6-12 Hybrid),” the letter said.
Food service will remain available, there are internet hotspots accessible from school parking lots, Kids Club will remain open and extracurricular activities, including athletics, will continue as scheduled.
Lebanon Special School District Director Scott Benson said last week he thinks his district can make it to the Christmas break without going to remote learning.
The Dec. 9 announcement was foreshadowed during Dec. 7’s school board meeting, when WCS Health Services Supervisor Chuck Whitlock reported that the district saw its 759th COVID-19 case and that the county’s daily new case rate was about 75 per 100,000 residents — in the extreme category. That’s more than double the rate when school reopened after the fall break, Whitlock said, and it triggered new limits on attendance at extracurricular events to 25% of capacity.
Christina Harris, teacher effectiveness supervisor, told the board that cases and quarantines among staff members was the driving factor behind the eight schools that had already been switched to remote as of Monday.
WCS Director Donna Wright then told the board, “We are looking at moving the district to remote (learning),” adding that no decision had been made, but the numbers would be looked at Tuesday and Wednesday.
In other business, the board got a pledge from Wright that a better communications plan would be developed and student IDs would be looked at so that situations such as occurred last month after an adult posing as a student made it into Green Hill High School last month and the board, parents and the public found out about it through social media.
WCS Director of Safety and Emergency Management Steve Spencer and officers from the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and Lebanon and Mt. Juliet police departments outlined in broad strokes the district’s security plans and how incidents are handled during the work session before the formal meeting.
Board members Carrie Pfeiffer and Jamie Farough pressed Spencer and Wright on the question of student photo IDs, which are not currently issued districtwide.
Spencer argued that IDs are easily swapped between students and that principals and staff now greet students as they enter schools, not only to make sure only students come in, but to look for students in distress. And he said, managing lost IDs would be difficult.
He conceded, however, that masks make that difficult. He also acknowledged that in schools with 1,000 or more students, not every principal is going to know every student.
Replacing Mickey HallWright asked for and got permission to create the position of supervisor of operations.
Her plan is to replace retiring Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall with two people — a director of finance and a supervisor of operations. Currently, Hall fills both roles, but that’s because Hall has been with the district for 28 years and his duties have grown with the district. Finding one person capable of handling both jobs would be impossible, Wright said.
“Nobody can do it,” she said, as she asked to board to consider her request an emergency, as Hall’s last day is Dec. 31.
Board member Jon White asked how the district would pay for the unbudgeted position. Wright said savings from unfilled, nonteaching positions would cover the rest of this budget year, but that the board would have to dedicate money to it in 2021-22. Supervisors in the district make about $95,000 and director’s make about $120,000, she said.
Board member Kimberly McGee was the lone no vote on creating the position.
The district is going to face a leadership vacuum in the next few months, as not only is Hall leaving, but Wright is scheduled to retire in June. Board Chairman Larry Tomlinson said he had tasked board members White and Bill Robinson with exploring how the district will go about filling Wright’s job. They will recommend to the full board whether to hire an outside search firm, use the Tennessee School Boards Association, or go it alone.
Tornado settlementSchool board attorney Mike Jennings told the board that the district has made a settlement offer to its insurance company over the destruction and damage to West Wilson Middle and Stoner Creek Elementary schools caused by the March 3 tornado. He made the announcement after meeting in closed session with the board. He did not say how much the offer was. The district has said that replacing the two schools would cost an estimated $80 million.
Jennings also asked the board to identify and prepare to hire an attorney who is an expert in insurance matters because if the settlement offer is rejected, going to court would likely be the next step.