Schools in the Paris Special School District will begin their school year as scheduled on Monday after the PSSD board took no action to delay things during a special meeting Wednesday.
After in-depth discussion among board members, Director of Schools Norma Gerrell and principals of the three schools in the district, the board seemed to agree the best path forward would be to start on time.
Monday will be a half-day of school for PSSD students.
By taking no action to delay, the PSSD differs from the Henry County School System, which delayed the start of its school year until Aug. 31 during a meeting about the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday.
The PSSD includes Inman Middle School for grades 6-8, Paris Elementary School for grades 3-5 and Rhea Elementary School for grades K-2.
At the PSSD board meeting Wednesday, board members quizzed the three principals about the readiness of their staffs to deal with whatever safety-related circumstances might arise when classes start. The principals’ unanimous response was they were ready, that it was up to the board whether to proceed based on whether it is safe to start.
Gerrell said cleaning supplies from the state Education Department have arrived, and that personal protective equipment (PPE) will be arriving in phases.
The district had previously developed four scenarios under which to operate, and they will be proceeding with Scenario 2, or the “yellow” plan. That allows for students to be on-campus with increased safety precautions, and for those families who prefer to have their children stay at home to be part of the virtual learning program.
Joey Brush, supervisor of instruction, said 249 students in the district have signed up for virtual learning, through Wednesday morning. Of those, 129 need to have computers made available to them and information on internet hotspots they can use. Both those numbers will surely go up before next week.
With new safety procedures to be in place, there were questions about whether more preparation time might be needed to get ready for getting the students into school from their buses or private vehicles.
“I can tell you the first few days of the car rider line are always crazy,” said board member John Steele. “So that would be happening even without the new safety steps. I understand the fear of the unknown, but we don’t ever know what’s going to happen until we go through it.”
“It will be up to our principals to make changes in those steps fast if it’s needed,” said board member Richard Edwards.
Bill Jelks, a longtime board member, said the district had done everything it could to give confidence to parents, students and teachers that there are good plans in place to handle whatever comes up.
WOULD DELAY MAKE DIFFERENCE?
Troy Barrow, chairman of the board, asked the board members and the principals whether a delay would really make a difference in terms of making parents, students and teachers less nervous about the school year.
“If we delayed, would we be any more prepared in two weeks, three weeks, a month, than what we are now? Would our teachers have a higher comfort level?” Barrow asked.
Those gathered appeared to agree there would be no difference.
“They (staff members) didn’t just start this plan last week,” Edwards said.
“When you say it’s time to go, we’re ready to go,” said Inman principal Jason Scarbrough.
“Whatever the board decides, we’ll make it happen,” said PES principal Chip Gray.
Gerrell said one of the health steps the district will keep an eye on is students on buses.
“Let’s say a student in the back right side of the bus contracts the virus, we’d give the seating chart to the (Henry County) Health Department, and they are the ones who would do the contact tracing,” Gerrell said.
That means the Health Department would get names of students who had contact with the infected student and would contact those students’ families and take appropriate steps, in conjunction with Mary Grace Bean, who works in the PSSD nursing department.
There was some discussion about staggering the attendance of students early in the school year, perhaps with boys coming some days and girls the others, but the board ultimately left things on a normal schedule.
As far as the PSSD schedule now being different from the county school system, Gerrell pointed out one big difference between the two.
“They’ve got more than a thousand students in one school (Henry County High School). You know, we are only going to have between five hundred and six hundred students in one building at a time,” she said.