The McDuffie County Board of Education approved a recommendation by school system administrators to change the initial school start date of Aug. 3 to Aug. 17 during a regular meeting July 23. School Superintendent Dr. Mychele Rhodes also presented a detailed school reopening plan with one model for face-to-face learning and one for virtual learning.

“Folks, we’re in unusual times,” McDuffie County School Board Chairman Andy Knox said. Knox said the system’s central office cabinet put “tremendous thought and preparation” into drafting the reopening plan. The plan’s purpose is to keep students and staff safe while ensuring children have an effective learning environment, he said.

Dr. Rhodes told school board members that the reopening plan is “a living document” and could change based on increased spread of the corona virus.

“The McDuffie County School System has been actively monitoring public health data as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Georgia Department of Education,” stated a district news release. School officials will also continue to follow Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s executive orders, according to the release.

Rhodes explained the face-to-face instruction model is dependent on the spread of the virus in McDuffie County. Therefore, a blended model that would include two days of face-to-face instruction and three days of virtual instruction could be implemented.

Rhodes cautioned that if cases of COVID-19 continue to rise and show “substantial spread,” the district would be forced to go back to virtual only instruction, as it did this past spring.

Parents who prefer to continue having their children learn from home can register for virtual instruction now through July 30, she said. The form can be found on the system website.

Rhodes said these contingency plans are in place for the first semester. She told school board members that administrators hope the pandemic levels off and all students can return to the physical classroom when the second semester begins in December.

A multitude of safety precautions will be implemented for face-to-face instruction, according to Rhodes. These practices are necessary to help keep students, faculty and the community-at-large safe, the superintendent said.

The system will conduct virtual open houses and parent-teacher conferences will be held online.

Students and staff must wear face coverings upon entering school and when riding the bus, social distancing will be strictly enforced on campus and hand-sanitizing stations will be placed throughout school as well as installing hand sanitizer dispensers at schools’ bus and car rider entrances. Buildings will be deep cleaned, and playground equipment will be sanitized after each class use. A staggered protocol also will be in place for parent pick-up of children, according to the reopening plan.

Meals will be served in classrooms on disposable plates and with plastic utensils, and the use of musical instruments in all grades will be temporarily suspended.

Rhodes said the system also would educate parents, as it has its staff, to recognize COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone who may feel ill, students or faculty, would be asked to stay home, she said.

The superintendent also briefed school board members on the return to school’s virtual learning only model, should it be implemented due to a surge in virus cases.

Rhodes said of the 50 buses in the system’s fleet, 25 are equipped as smart buses with WiFi to provide students in high need areas with Internet access. The system has also purchased additional chrome books for staff and students. Parents would be trained on how to navigate Google Classroom and other online communication tools like Zoom.

Rhodes said the Grab-and-Go process for providing students meals would be utilized should the virtual school contingency be employed. Buses can be used to deliver meals to students, she said.

The district’s complete reopening plan can be found on the system website under the heading “2020-2021 Re-opening Resource Guide” at www.mcduffie.k12.ga.us.

Personnel

In other school board business, the board approved recommendations on personnel that included 14 hires, eight resignations, four transfers and one job candidate who declined an offer of employment.

The hired teachers include Brian Staley at R. L. Norris Elementary School, Varian Davis-Watkins at Thomson-McDuffie Middle School, and Kevin Smith and Clayton Ford at Thomson High School. The hired paraprofessionals include Natasha Hill at Thomson Elementary School, Supriya Johnson at NES and Jervon Walker at TMMS. Sally “Sara” Jones had been hired at 49 percent as STEM coordinator for TES and Maxwell Elementary School. Zachary Randolph and Bradley Williamson will serve as technology support technicians. In transportation, Verna Wheeler Samuels was hired as a bus driver, Georgia Lee Sleister as a permanent substitute bus driver and Frankeria Lockett as a bus monitor. Lianda Sands will work as a custodian at TES.

Resignations included teacher Pamela McCorkle, paraprofessionals Christina Young and Melvinia Jones, technology support technicians Matthew Hooker and Taylor May, bus driver Clifford Butch Wiseman, custodian Mary Johsnon and secretary Nico Young.

Among school employees transferring was school resource officer Roderick Bryce who transferred from THS/TMMS to TES. John Crawford transferred from permanent sub bus driver to bus driver. Teacher Angie Roberts transferred from THS to lead teacher at McDuffie Achievement Center. And paraprofessional Samantha Lazenby transferred from NES to TMMS.

Cecile Williams declined a teaching job offer.

School board actions

The Board of Education approved rolling over amounts in the general and SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funds from fiscal year 2020 to FY 2021, to allow the completion of maintenance, technology and transportation projects begun during the summer.

The board also approved the purchase of a 16-camera HikVision video surveillance system for MAC from Howard Technologies in the amount of $8,643.75 using SPLOST funds. Dr. Rhodes told school board members the system has HikVision systems at the high and middle schools and at Dearing Elementary School.

School board members also approved bids for food, milk, beverages, paper products and traditional bread for the 2020-2021 school year.

The board also approved a policy change in the system’s high school graduation requirements to better align the system’s policy with state school board rules. This amendment will allow a new diploma option for students with significant cognitive disabilities entering 9th grade this fall.

School board members also approved an initial FY21 grant from Bright from the Start for the Pre-K program in the amount of $549,763.86 and authorized the development of a budget.

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