The Long County Board of Education held a regular meeting on Aug. 23. Following is a summary of items discussed and/or voted upon:
Superintendent David Edwards reported that the district’s total student enrollment is 4,096. Growth of the student population has created unusually large classroom sizes in kindergarten and first grade, so school administrators are actively seeking additional teachers with the intention of creating additional classes.
Assistant Superintendent Lisa McCallister presented a COVID-19 Update. On Aug. 23, the district had 205 students quarantined due to COVID-19 exposures; 34 staff members quarantined due to COVID-19 exposures; 43 isolated students due to positive COVID-19 tests; and 24 isolated staff members due to positive COVID-19 tests. She reported that since the school year began on August 2nd, 146 students and 47 employees have tested positive for the virus. Also, since the school year began, 1,160 students and 83 employees have been quarantined due to direct exposures.
Data from the DPH Coastal Health District was presented including the Aug. 23, recent community transmission index of 929, the highest this metric has been for Long County since COVID began.
Edwards explained that Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia DPH Commissioner and State Health Officer, released a document that increases local control and gives school districts the option to follow modified quarantine guidance. Edwards’ recommendation was to continue to follow DPH guidance for the 7-, 10-, or 14-day quarantines of students and staff who are identified as direct contacts of positive cases.
The BOE members voted to fund the installation of a wrought iron decorative fence with brick columns between Georgia Hwy. 57 and Veterans Stadium.
Edwards recommended reinstating paid COVID-19 leave for employees who meet qualifying reasons including being isolated due to testing positive for COVID-19 and being quarantined due to a direct exposure with a positive case. The BOE discussed several stipulations to be considered including whether a test result could be requested as documentation for meeting the qualifying reason of testing positive for the virus. BOE members expressed support for the paid leave, but requested that Edwards seek legal advice on how to offer the leave and obtain necessary documentation to verify the qualifying reasons. Paid COVID-19 leave will be reviewed again at the Aug. 30, called BOE meeting.
Edwards reported that he has completed the Georgia DOE facilities application for the Long County High School addition and Smiley Elementary School renovations. The estimated cost of the renovations is $3.7 million with $2 million in state funding and $1.7 million in local funds. If the district receives approval to fund the new HVAC system at SES with CARES Act grants, then approximately $945,300 of the project will be funded federally.
The tax digest was not advertised in the legal organ as requested and, therefore, could not be approved by the BOE. A called meeting will be held Aug. 30, at 6 p.m. so that the tax digest can be approved after being advertised this week. Edwards explained that the district is rolling back the school tax millage rate from 14.478 to 14.387. The same amount of taxes is expected to be collected at the rolled back rate due to inflationary growth in Long County.
Principals gave an update on the temporary virtual learning that has currently been implemented due to the high spread rate of COVID-19 in our schools.
Sherry Lester, LCHS Principal, reported that high school virtual learning is going well. Professional development was provided for teachers to support the transition to virtual learning. Student attendance has been very good. Virtual learning has allowed teachers to help other teachers who are sick and unable to work. Rather than having a substitute, students’ virtual classes are combined with another teacher’s classes.
Beverly Hill, LCMS Principal, stated that some middle school virtual classes have had 100% student attendance. She said virtual learning has helped quarantined students who are not sick because they can continue to participate in learning.
Wregina Carryl, MES Principal, shared that her student attendance for grades 3-5 has been awesome. She explained that many of the teachers are sick, so students are joining the classes of other teachers who are able to work.
Dr. Patricia Krumnow, SES Principal, explained that the lack of experience with devices for learning among the pre-k-2nd grade students has made virtual learning more difficult for SES. However, the virtual learning experience has greatly improved since the first day as students have learned to navigate the Google Classroom platform.
Superintendent Edwards commended principals, teachers, staff, parents, and students for their hard work and support as the district had to convert to short-term virtual learning. He stressed that the district’s goal is to safely return students to their classrooms as soon as possible. A virtual learning interest survey will be used to guide planning for the return to face-to-face learning. If a large number of parents elect to participate in a voluntary long-term virtual option, it will enable students and teachers to socially distance more than they could if all students are face-to-face. An A/B schedule may also be considered.
Mr. Edwards commended the district’s nutrition and transportation departments for successfully delivering 4,000 meals to students earlier in the day.
The BOE members voted to change Sept. 3 from a student holiday/teacher in-service day to a student/teacher holiday. Sept. 3rd will be a holiday for all Long County School System employees.