WEDOWEE - At last Thursday's Randolph County School Board meeting, there were hot tempers, harsh words, voices being raised and disagreements concerning the reopening of the county schools. The disagreements weren't just between the board members and parents at the regular meeting; there were disagreements among the board members at the work session.
The board met in a work session prior to the regular meeting specifically to discuss and make a decision on returning to a regular school week or a modified school week. At the onset of the work session, Superintendent John Jacobs told the board, "Safety is the number one issue. I have had concerns voiced from students, staff and parents, but we've got to do what's best for everyone. I am sharing with you the results of COVID-19 cases in all of our schools since school began."
Board Chairman Billy Lane said he would like to see the schools go back to a five-day week. He said, "Parents are having trouble finding someone to watch their kids, keep their kids, and I question the rate of success on the virtual learning."
Board member Darrell Hardin suggested a four-day week, Monday through Thursday with Friday as a cleanup/disinfecting day or Monday and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday with Wednesday being a cleanup day. He said, "I say let's ease them back into a regular schedule. Let's test it and see how it goes."
Board member John Hall said he feels the kids are at home not learning, and some are having problems doing their work. He said, "I think the younger kids are having the most problems with their work. If they went back to a full schedule tomorrow, it would be fine with me."
Board member Jimmy McCain said he had parents contact him about the internet not working properly and problems with the virtual programs. Jacobs principals Allan Robertson and Logan Cofield of Wedowee Middle and Elementary their thoughts. Both agreed a four-day week would work best.
"Our teachers would have time to catch up if we didn't have school on Wednesday, and we would be able to disinfect and clean how we need to properly," said Robertson.
After a lengthy discussion, Jacobs said he would agree to four days a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday after the nine-week grading period is over (Oct. 22) until Christmas and then maybe go back to five days. He said, "Virtual students can stay virtual or ease back into in-person learning."
At the conclusion of the work session, board members agreed with the superintendent's recommendation on four days.
In the regular meeting, a large group of parents were in attendance to voice their opinion. Mary Ethridge of Wedowee, a registered nurse, had requested to address the board concerning the school week. She said, "There are reservations going into a five-day week, but I work with COVID patients every day. It can work if we follow the guidelines, sanitizing hands, wearing masks ... It's very simple. Other counties are looking to Randolph County to see what we are going to do. We can be the champion of this if we work it out right. Parents need to take the lead of their children by keeping them home if they are sick."
Jacobs said when the staggered week started, it was agreed to look at it after the nine weeks.
Ethridge said parents are under pressure to find someone to keep their children. "Parents will have to pay for just one day, and this is a real inconvenience, especially if you don't know what day they need someone."
One parent from Woodland shouted, "You didn't close the schools for the flu, hepatitis or AIDS, so why have you done what you've done? You've basically crammed this down our throats. This virtual thing is above some parents' heads. If our kids can go to Walmart and ballgames, why can't they go to school?"
Other parents agreed with Ethridge about problems finding someone for childcare, and several said their children are failing classes on the virtual learning.
Jacobs said the planning for the split week schedule and virtual learning had been hard work. He said, "We want to do what is in the best interest of our students."
Another parent said she comes home after working eight hours and spends hours working with three children. She knows it is her responsibility as a parent, but her kids are falling behind.
Another said her child was a straight-A student, but now he's not learning because the teacher records her lessons ... She's not teaching; she is a glorified babysitter.
Lane stated he had heard enough and made a motion to go back to a five-day school week effective beginning Oct. 22, the end of the first nine weeks. The vote was unanimous.
On the agenda were four recommendations to approve contract employees. The first was approval of Marilyn Whitlow to provide services defined by the mental health coordinator job description.
Hardin questioned the contract and the hire. "I have no problem with this lady, but I don't agree with the language of the contract, and I want to know how she was chosen and why she was chosen."
Jacobs asked personnel director Mary Kelly to address the meeting, but she had left for the day.
Hardin said he feels like the board needs to advertise these positions. "We need to be fair. It's just the right thing to do," Hardin said.
Jacobs said the contract positions have never been advertised.
"We may not have done it before, but we need to do it now," Hardin responded. "How do people know about these open positions? What if someone wanted to apply, but they never had the chance? Just how are these contract candidates chosen? We also need to release ourselves from liability in these contracts. We may have not advertised in the past, but we need to now."
"This lady has already quit her job. What is she supposed to do?" Jacobs asked.
After a lengthy discussion, the board agreed to table the hiring until a later date. The board did approve contract services with Ashley Bailey for tutoring and intervention services, Joyce Oliver and Keisha Norred for nursing services, and Vicki Herron for counseling services. Hardin voted no on all the contract hirings.
In his report, Jacobs said the county made it to the fourth round of the Census Bowl and got beaten by Tallapoosa County. The county did qualify to win $20,000 that will be split between the county schools and Roanoke City Schools. It has been agreed between the two systems that the funds will be used for new cameras to be installed at the vocational school.
In other reports, the superintendent said the state bond money should be released soon, and the county should receive $2.75 million. He said, "We have preliminary drawings and plans for the use of this money at some of our schools."
Jacobs said the county schools had received a $9,000 grant for COVID supplies for the county and Roanoke schools. The grant came from Coosa Valley Resource, Conservation & Development Council.
Jacobs said Sen. Randy Price had secured an $8,700 grant for Woodland. The grant will be used for new playground equipment.
Energy saving program
At the work session, Larry Perrin of Schneider Electric presented a plan to the board to save costs on all utilities, including power, water and gas. Perrin said utility costs are the second highest expense. He said engineers had looked at the county facilities, and he estimates a savings of some 15 to 40 percent. The plan would come with a 20-year guarantee and a 20-year partnership, and there would be no money upfront. Some of the improvements would include LED lighting, automation for heating and air, and replacing or repairing seals around windows and doors. The company has completed 46 projects in Alabama and is currently working on other projects in the neighboring counties. The savings each year would pay for the project itself. The board will look at the proposal and make a decision at a later date.
In other business, the board:
- Delayed approving a resolution for the superintendent's compensation and expenses.
- Approved Christina Jordan and Hannah Clifton as substitute teachers.
- Approved Wayne Character as substitute for support personnel.
- Approved Stephanie Adkins as special education teacher at Rock Mills and RCHS.
- Approved the purchase of 283 air scrubbers and air purifiers to be installed in all classrooms, gyms, offices, auditoriums and libraries at a cost of $77,633 to be paid for with CARES funds.
- Heard a report on the 2019 audit from the Examiners of Public Accounts.
- Approved the intergovernmental agreement with Jefferson County Regional Purchasing Cooperative at a cost of $203 per year.
- Approved Tamara Taylor as a delegate and Jimmy McCain as alternate for the Alabama Association of School Boards' annual convention.