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Board of Education questions back to school plan

The Sumter County Board of Education met for their work session on Monday, 8.9.21. Initial business included receiving an update from Parrish Construction on Sumter County High School. The representative from the company “went on record” indicating as far as it was up to them, the school will be occupied on 9.7.21.

Conversation then turned to Sumter County Schools (SCS) returning back to face-to-face instruction. Some board members did not recall voting on the item. Some wanted further surveying of parents, teachers and community stake holders. Policy concerning exposure to virus was discussed. Although very little input came from Sylvia Roland, Jim Reid or Patricia Harris, the remaining board members expressed strong concern over the schools starting back in a face-to-face manner. Chairman Rick Barnes facilitated the conversation; however, he made the point athletics has been active throughout last year and if SCS staff could make it safe for athletes and fans to participate in those processes, it was time to let the staff and administrators do the same for the students to be in class. He states, “We don’t have to take the entire system down over an isolated incident that we can control.” Barnes also expressed his confidence in SCS staff and administration to mitigate any situations which might present. Dr. Torrance Choates, Superintendent of SCS, reminded the BOE a safety plan is a living document and part of his and the administration’s job is to adjust the plan as the Center for Disease Control, Georgia Department of Public Health and local developments dictate. The safety plan was then dissected with many topics to include touchless water fountains, teachers making water available to students, policy on contacting parents, required testing results and contact tracing being a few of the discussion items. In the end, Carolyn Hamilton asked that masks, water fountains and bus monitors be added as action items for the voting meeting. Barnes indicated mask use could be added to the agenda, however the other items would require further information gathering so the BOE could make an educated vote.

The meeting then went into committee meeting reports. Finance committee will recommend approval of the reports which was robust to include reports not typically included due to the end of the year activities. Additionally, the millage rate is expected to be 18.106, and a vote will be taken. Personnel committee required an executive session for the evening and will require another on Thursday night. Policy committee then brought up another topic which brought forth much conversation. In addition to other items, a dress code policy change has been suggested. Dr. Choates, however, does not agree with the dress code policy, and prefers the currently policy, especially since it served as the baseline for students in the handbook and for ensuring the students had necessary items for the 2020-21 school year. Hamilton then peppered Choates with several questions regarding his stance. Choates indicates he wants the principals to have final discretion in making decisions on whether dress is appropriate. As it stands, Choates feels the power for discretion is not inherent in the new policy and he will not recommend such action be taken. The new policy change came out of a meeting between Walter Knighton and several administrators. The new policy contains more changes than expected by some board members. Barnes explained protocol is to hear the superintendent’s recommendation and take a vote upon it, it is not up to other administrators to make the recommendations. Hamilton then questioned Choates on why he didn’t vocalize his opinions during the meeting of administrators. Choates clarified, Knighton was given the task to research out a few items in the policy and he found it disrespectful to Knighton to insert his opinion during the meeting. However, it is appropriate to review the changes and make a recommendation to the board after his consideration of them. As a board member, a voting item can be added to the voting meeting. Being that Choates was not going to recommend the changes, Hamilton then added the item for a vote. Property committee presented several items for the upkeep of the grounds to include many tractors. In regard to the new property Abbis Bivins then questioned getting bids to purchase the equipment. After executive session, Jim Reid explained how the BOE was allowed to procure the equipment under special circumstances without bidding the purchases out. Hamilton questioned Reid on when the conversation was had as the chair of the property committee, Vincent Kearse, was not aware of some of the details Reid presented. Reid informed her he had been working on the issue for months and he gathered the information. Bivins then requested an invoice for the school supplies purchased. When asked exactly what information she wanted, Bivins wants an itemized report on the supplies. Barnes reports such a report is generated every month. Upon further clarification, Bivins reports wanting to see an invoice from the vendor to back up each purchase. When asked for further clarification, Barnes questioned Bivins on why she would like individual invoices and she responded, “I have a right to see it.”

The regular voting meeting of the BOE will be held Thursday night at 7pm in the board room of the administration building. The meeting will also be broadcasted on Facebook on the Sumter County Schools page. This meeting, as well as prior meetings can also be found on Facebook.