By Crystal Burns
Better to be safe than sorry.
Eddie Pruett, director of the Gibson County Special School District (GCSSD), is urging parents to keep children showing signs of COVID-19 at home.
“We’re seeing quite a few students that are coming to school that are symptomatic,” Pruett told the GCSSD board at its Sept. 10 meeting. “That really creates a scary thing at our schools because we are potentially infecting a lot of students and could have an outbreak happen at our school and have to shut a school down. My plea is for every parent, if they have a kid that is exhibiting those symptoms, keep them at home until they’re symptom free or they figure out what’s going on. I would rather be safe than sorry.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported, ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms to watch for include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and/or diarrhea. The CDC updates the list as health experts learn more about COVID-19.
Pruett said the district is seeing more children with symptoms coming to school in the lower grades than in middle or high schools.
John Campbell II, a new board member who was sworn in with Scott Ball prior to the meeting, said the disease isn’t being taken seriously enough. He applauded school leaders for doing the right thing and sending symptomatic children home from school, but said once the children are home, it’s up to their families to make sure the students quarantine or isolate as directed by their doctors.
COVID-19 bonus – The board unanimously approved Pruett’s recommendation to give all district employees a $200 bonus for the extra work everyone is doing due to the stringent cleaning protocols and other measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the schools.
“Everybody in the district is working hard this year, harder than ever,” Pruett said. “Everybody is working extremely hard, and we can’t give them enough money to account for the extra time they’re spending.”
Pruett said the bonuses are a small token of appreciation. The total dollar amount is $115,000. The board also approved amending the budget to cover the bonuses.
“I do think our folks will really appreciate this,” Pruett said.
Pruett explained that the COVID-19 bonus is separate from the level of effectiveness bonuses teachers receive. Since the district had no testing data, as the state canceled assessments last year due to COVID-19 school closures, the district took the total amount it awarded the previous year and divided it equally among Level 4 and Level 5 teachers for this school year. Each of those teachers received a $390 bonus, said Terry Cunningham, director of Finance & Operations.
Digital Learning Academy stipends – Pruett gave an update on the stipends being paid to teachers who have students enrolled in the district’s Digital Learning Academy in addition to in-person classes. He said the district has seen an increase in the numbers since the August board meeting. At present, the district would pay about $343,000 total in stipends ($150 per student) if it continues the Digital Learning Academy for the entire 2020-21 school year.
The district initially asked parents enrolling their students in digital learning to commit to nine weeks at a time, but Pruett said circumstances have warranted some students going digital for brief periods due to quarantining. He also said that some school principals have welcomed back students for in-person learning because they were having difficulties with the digital academy.
Pruett said he expects virtual enrollment to decline for the second 9-week grading period. Additionally, any student failing a course after the first grading period, will be required to attend in person.
“We need them here where we can help them,” he said. “We can’t afford them to get too far behind.”
The director also updated the board on virtual Fridays, which were instituted for the first 9-week grading period to give teachers more time to build out programs for students in the Digital Learning Academy. Pruett said he had received a lot of emails from teachers thanking the board for the extra time, saying they didn’t realize how much they would benefit from it.
Additional substitutes – Pruett said the district hired additional substitutes to work the first nine weeks of school, putting three on the north end and three on the south end. He said it has worked out well to have those six people dedicated to filling in gaps where needed and credited board member Eddie Watkins for the idea.
Director’s evaluation – In their annual evaluation of Pruett, school board members gave the director high marks with an overall average of 4.15 out of 5. Board members score Pruett in the areas of board relationship, community relationship, staff and personnel relationships, educational leadership, and business and finance.