With the traditional start of the school year just a month and a half away, the Barrow County School System has unveiled three tentative scenarios to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
County school leaders presented these three options during the Barrow County Board of Education’s June 16 video-conferencing meeting.
“We will have school in one shape or form,” superintendent Chris McMichael said.
But McMichael said the system’s goal is to start school on Aug. 4 with students on-site.
“We want to get our students and staff back on time and on campus,” he said. “We all know that’s where the best learning goes on. That’s where our kids are comfortable.”
Whatever option school leaders decide upon, however, will be based upon how the system is identified by the Department of Health for its risk level for COVID-19 spread. Systems will fit into one of three categories: low or no spread, minimal or moderate spread, or substantial spread.
McMichael speculates that Barrow County Schools could fall into either the low-spread or minimal or moderate spread category. He expects that news later in the week.
The reopening plans, which come after school buildings were shuttered back in mid-March in response to the coronavirus outbreak, were presented in order of most ideal to least.
Here is each option:
Option 1, which coincides with a low or no spread designation, has students and staff returning to campuses on Aug. 4. Safety precautions against the spread of COVID-19 would be incorporated into that plan. Remote learning would be made available for students who might have health risks or simply prefer remote learning. The remote-learning option could allow for in-person classes to be live streamed for students to remotely access them. McMichael said provisions could be made for students with health risks who would prefer to learn remotely but lack digital access.
Option 2, which would be used with a minimal or moderate spread designation, is the most varied.
It, too, has students and teachers returning to campuses but with a delayed start. Like Option 1, preventative measures against COVID-19 would be implemented with a remote-learning option available as well.
But within Option 2 are hybrid scenarios.
One scenario divides the student population into an "A-B" group rotation. These groups would determine on-campus days for each individual student. Under this hybrid plan, students would begin school on Aug. 4.
McMichael said this scenario is “probably the most difficult in many ways,” pointing to the logistics of bus schedules and providing lunches, among other issues, for different groups of students.
Another hybrid scenario is to implement the A-B campus rotation for K-8 only and restrict grades 9-12 to remote learning. This scenario also has an Aug. 4 start date.
Another scenario is a staggered return to school by level (elementary, middle and high school).
Under Option 2, students with digital-access needs would receive prioritized on-campus access.
Option 3, labeled as the least ideal and reserved for a substantial spread designation, would have students starting school on Aug. 4 with remote learning.
The school system will release a more definitive plan on July 6 for reopening, along with specific protocols for safety precautions. School leaders will ask parents to notify them between the dates of July 8-Aug. 17 if they prefer remote learning for their student.
The system is planning to hold pre-planning and open houses in July in advance of the targeted Aug. 4 re-opening date.
District 9 at-large board member Stephanie Bramlett asked about social-distancing guidelines upon reopening, pointing to school buses specifically. McMichael said there are “no clear answers yet” to those questions, but social-distancing guidelines, though practiced when possible, are not mandated.
McMichael pointed to a new normal for school systems.
“School is going to be different,” McMichael said. “Even starting back on Aug. 4 and running the calendar that we expect, things are just going to be different. The precautions that are going to have to take place, the flow of instruction … I told the principals and some of the staff the other day in one of our Zoom meetings that at this point it may be time to morn a little bit of the past was, and now it’s time to shake it off and move forward and make the best out of what we’re going to do to move forward.”
TENTATIVE SCHOOL MILLAGE RATE APPROVED
The school board approved a tentative millage rate of 18.5 mills, maintaining a rate the system has held since 2007. With that rate, the district anticipates $42.8 million in property-tax revenue for FY2021.
The board opted not to roll back its rate to 18.095 mills, which would have generated the same amount of tax money as the previous year on property that was on the 2019 digest (excluding new exemptions).
Because it opted against a roll back, the board must hold three public hearings. Those hearings are set for 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. July 1 and 1 p.m. July 9.
The board will adopt the millage rate in a called meeting July 13 to present to the board of commissioners for a final vote at its July 14 meeting.
A guaranteed maximum price of $8 million for a SPLOST-funded addition to Westside Middle School was presented to the board to consider.
The school system, the project architect (Smallwood Reynolds Stewart and Stewart) and construction manager (Charles Black Construction) began collaborating during the winter develop drawings and a budget.
The system expects to receive $1.5 million in state capital outlay funds for this project.
The school board also considered a recommendation to use the firm of Cunningham, Forehand, Matthews and Moore to perform design work for renovations to the Auburn Elementary School, Holsenbeck Elementary School and Apalachee High School campuses. The firm has done design work for the school system previously. Renovation work at those school sites will include new finishes, lights, classroom cameras and brick and mortar security vestibules.
The system will apply for state capital outlay funding for this project.
BOARD ADDRESSES MISSED LUNCH PAYMENTS
The school board discussed implementing policies to address lunch-payment delinquency and encourage parents to fill out free and reduced lunch forms.
The council’s school-lunch committed presented the following recommendations:
•replacement of old school-payment software.
•changing school lunch payment policies to clarify that charging meals is not allowed.
•implementing a daily call system to notify parents of lunch non-payment.
•notifying school social workers for repeated non-payments for lunch.
•requesting month-to-month reports to chart each school’s progress for lunch collections.
•monthly awards for schools demonstrating best nutritional practices, including meal-payment collections.
•ensuring that communication to parents is consistent across schools and that those communicating with parents are properly trained.
The board stressed that a student will not be denied meals if they’re unable to pay, but said these measures are to hold parents accountable.
“If parents can’t afford lunch, that’s fine. Fill out the form,” chairperson Lynn Stevens said, referring to free and reduced lunch forms. “If you can afford lunch, send the money. We need a way that these parents can prepay their kids' lunches so that this shouldn’t even be an issue.”
Stevens added that these measures hold the school system accountable, too.
“For years, we have just let these accounts build up and build up and then we get to the end of the year, and it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve got $18,000 that we haven’t collected' or $21,000 or whatever,” she said.
In other business, the BOE:
•heard that $41,740 worth of state capital outlay funds are due back to the school system after closing out its Yargo Elementary School renovation project. The project was completed in the summer of 2019 and all payments have now been made.
•reviewed various low bids for brake shoe and drums, which would amount to a yearly cost of $62,000.
•reviewed W.W. Williams’ low bid of $45,545 for three remanufactured engines for three older buses.
•reviewed Peach State Freightliner’s low bid for bus batteries, which would amount to an estimated yearly expense of $35,000.
•reviewed Athens Commercial Tire’s low bid for bus tires, which would equate to an estimated expense of $140,000 yearly.
•reviewed Connor Automotive’s low bid of $87,000 for service of the system’s 81-vehicle white fleet, which includes maintenance trucks and vans and vehicles used by various departments.
•reviewed Alpha Communications’ low bid of $23,000 for radio service, as well as video and camera equipment for buses.
•reviewed the low bids of four companies for musical instruments for Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy. The lowest bid per each instrument was selected. The aggregate price is $86,649, which would be covered through ESPOST funds.
•discussed receiving proposals to refund the school system’s 2014 bonds, which are currently at 2.55 percent. The move could produce savings in the system’s ELOST funds.