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Board of Education finalizes plans for start of 2020-2021 school year

By:  Tracy K. Hall

Sumter County Board of Education (BOE) held their regular meeting for July on Thursday, July 9, 2020. After a long working session outlining options on how the school would resume for the 20-21 year, a plan was voted into place.

The first day of school of students will be delayed until Thursday, August 17, 2020. Classes will be held on a virtual basis for the first 9 weeks of the school year. Each student will be provided with a chrome book to assist in the virtual learning format. School buses will also be outfitted to serve as mobile hot spots for students who do not have internet at home. The buses will be placed in strategic areas so all students should have internet access. Additionally, teachers will be provided laptops in their efforts to instruct the students. Since the technology department will need some time to procure, program and distribute the chrome books the start date for school will be delayed by 2 weeks. The board felt it best to give each student new equipment prior to the beginning of the school year, rather than ask the students to have partial coverage by starting on the original date of August 6, 2020. Because of the delay, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays will be affected.

Dr. Choates was clear in his remarks on the effectiveness of having the traditional face to face instruction in a classroom. However, safety and well being of the students must be top priority. By way of a survey distributed to parents and staff of the school, it was determined that the virtual method was most popular, and the safest option for this time. However, Dr. Choates, in a collaborated effort with other counties as well as health and law enforcement professionals will be fluid in their decision making, allowing the school to return to a traditional format as protection from COVID-19 will allow. Virtual Open House and Town Hall style meetings will be held to keep parents, students and staff connected prior to the start of school. As time progresses, procedures may change to best suit the goal of keeping our students safe and well educated. Dr. Choates has explored future options to include busing options, social distancing, personal protective equipment, and lunchroom procedures as the schools go from virtual format into traditional settings. Such planning is already being implemented to ensure the safety of the students should the 2nd nine weeks allow for more approaches outside of virtual.

Presenting at the meeting on Thursday night were Matt Hightower, who gave an update on the progress of the new school. The school is coming along as expected and there are no foreseen issues which could delay the opening of the school. Additionally, Bill Bennett of Computer Business Solutions, Inc. made a presentation on thermal cameras that will be located at 2 point of entry spots at each school. The camera has the capacity to photograph 25 students per second. Images of all students, staff and BOE members will be uploaded into the system which allows for the camera to detect if anyone not in the system tries to enter the building. Should a visitor to the school not be identified in the system, an alarm will indicate such and the school will have that person come to the front office to get their business identified and taken care of. In addition to facial recognition, the cameras also thermally check temperatures of persons entering the building within 3/10 of 1%. This allows for pre-hand knowledge of a COVID-19 related symptom to be recognized. As with an unfamiliar face, the camera will also alarm if anyone with a temperature enters the building. Going into the future, these cameras will be utilized on buses to provide safety prior to reaching the point of entry for the schools. Another benefit of the cameras is it will check at 9 different points for the presence of weapons. The BOE voted to purchase the cameras on Thursday night’s meeting.

Other voting action included approval of the 2020-21 Nutritional Handbook, changing the location of the Peach Program to the campus of GSW, an adoption of a memorandum of understanding between Albany State University and the BOE. Under personnel, 1 retirement, 1 release from contract, 5 resignations, 3 rescindment of job offers, 7 transfers, 24 new employments and 2 family medical leaves were all approved unanimously.

Although not voted on, an amended budget will be voted on next month after 2 public hearings. Those public hearings will 7/16/2020 at 4:30 pm and 7/23/2020 at 12:30 pm. The budget as presented is balanced and will not bring cause for a tax increase. Although there is a lot of new spending, most of the cost will be covered in the CARES Act funding.

August Work Session will be 8/10/2020 at 6pm and the regular board meeting will be on 8/13/2020 at 7pm. Both meetings will be held in a virtual manner and can be viewed lived or in the archived videos on Sumter County Schools Facebook page.