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Franklin County Schools ready for ’extraordinary times’

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times

The leadership at Franklin County Schools is optimistic that they will have the right rules in place as teachers prepare to return Monday, and students Friday, August 14, to classes that were last conducted in person back in March.

“We’re going to make it through this,” Franklin County Schools Principal Laurence Pender told the school board at the July 30 regular meeting. “We’re in it. It’s like going through a hurricane. You got to go back to school.”

Pender said he had talked to several concerned parents, especially those who have a family member who is elderly or with a preexisting condition.

“I told them if you have any concern, by all means do the virtual school,” he said. “They’ll have that virtual capability, and at the end of the semester they can come back. Just make sure he or she does the work so we have grades entered.”

Superintendent Traci Yoder said that earlier this week the state approved the district’s Innovative Learning Plan and will be sharing a Family Reopening Guide, to give families a breakdown of what learning on campus and as well as virtually, looks like for the 2020-21 school year.

She said that as of Monday, about half of the district’s 909 students, the anticipated enrollment at both the Learning Center and the Franklin County Schools, had completed an online or paper enrollment form.

Of the 407 students who have enrolled, 100 chose the innovative learning option, which means they will take their classes digitally. A breakdown of the numbers shows that 30 are elementary students, 22 are in middle school, and 48 are in high school.

The district’s plans calls for students to be given a temperature check with a handheld device prior to their boarding the bus, and then to remain seated, obviously without social distancing, but wearing masks on the bus.

Yoder said a survey of teachers and staff indicated that most were not in favor of a mandatory mask requirement at the school, but supported measures to encourage them when social distancing cannot be practiced.

Students who arrive directly to school will be temperature tested and each student will be accompanied by an adult, either a teacher or paraprofessional, to their classroom on pre-set paths, outlined by Pender and Assistant Principal Shelly Miedona to the school board.

“I’m very excited,” said Pender. “We just worked and worked. We’ve been reading through documents, and changing (the wording) of documents to make them more parent friendly.

“We’re planning to move students around campus safely,” he said. “We’ve prepared charts to show you how they’ll move around school. We’re going to have to have everybody on board.

“I just gave them (fellow administrators) the reins and they started running with it. It’s so refreshing for me,” Pender said. “These are tough times; I’m going to need everybody wearing a bunch of different hats.

“If it doesn’t work, we’ll do something different day two,” he said. “I’m hoping very shortly people will see tremendous change (at the school).”

The school is planning to have both recess and physical education, and is currently in the process of finding two physical education teachers to replace Kam and Carla Ashabranner, who announced last month they were leaving to join the staff of an Indiana community college (See related story)

Pender said the school will have three outdoor recess areas, plus the multipurpose gym, and will work to keep students separated and with their classmates as much as possible.

“We don’t want classes intermingling with each other,” he said.

Breakfast will be encouraged and served inside the classrooms, for elementary and middle school students, and lunches will be served that way as well for elementary students. High school or middle school students who have meals within the cafeteria will be socially distanced, in a divided area, at tables separated from each other.

“Right now our greatest concern is getting these teachers a break throughout the day,” said Pender. “And the hard part will be convincing those kids only three can be in the bathroom at the same time.”

The new principal said the school is working on a deal where each child will be handed a Chromebook laptop computer at the start of the day, and at the end of the day it will be put up and sanitized, for the start of school the next day.

The school is working on ways to insert Plexiglas panels between desks, to stand in the way of children exposing one another to the virus.

“These are extraordinary times,” said Pender. “I live in a 200-year old house. I wonder what my grandfather did.”

He said he does have some worries that a lunchroom lady or a staffer who has contact with several children might come down with the coronavirus.

The district is working out details of a policy to deal with quarantine, which Yoder has said will be enforced after consultation with the health department. “If there are quarantine orders, it will be an excused absence,” she said.

Yoder said she has reached out to PanCare to provide ongoing, rapid testing as needed.

Rob Wheetley, in charge of the district’s security, said the district is struggling with dealing with a shortage of inmate labor. “We don’t have the inmates that we had,” he said. “I need able bodies. We just don’t have the applicant pool. We’re doing the best we can with what we got.”

The school board unanimously approved the rehiring of most all of the existing administrators, as well as several teachers, including Callie Nichols Wynot, who is returning to the district.

The only exception to unanimity was the creation of an assistant principal post, to oversee the virtual school along with a variety of other responsibilities, at an annual salary of $70,000.

Board member Pam Marshall, who cast the lone no vote, said she had no objection to the hiring of veteran teacher and administrator Karen Ward to fill the post. She said she thought it would make more sense to wait until later in the year, to see how enrollment patterns shaped up, before creating an entirely new position which might not be needed.

The Franklin County District Schools