S(NO)w ifs, ands, or buts…
BY IVAN SANDERS
The Carter County Board of Education held a workshop meeting on Thursday evening leading up to next week’s regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday, December 17, at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom.
One of the biggest discussions of the evening surrounded an issue that is brought up almost every year about snow days in the county and when and how they should be used.
With some misconception surrounding the 13 snow days that are built into the annual school calendar, School Board Director Dr. Tracy McAbee dove right into explaining exactly what the days are intended to be used for and what they are not.
“There is some misconception among teachers that have them upset that there is a perk of getting 13 snow days off due to Carter County being one of the lowest-paid school districts but that is misinformation,” McAbee stated. “There is no law that you have to take 13 days off and the idea that the county is the lowest-paid county in the state is not true.”
The director went on further explaining that students are to receive 180 days of instruction per school year and if those 13 days were taken off that students would be shorted to only 167 days and not the full 180 days.
In actuality, the snow days can be used for personal development days and parent-teacher conferences as well as inclement weather days McAbee advised.
Also, to help ensure that students get as much in-class time as they possibly can, McAbee along with Transportation Director Wayne Sams and his staff and others have worked on a zone guide that will help to ensure that when certain parts of the county get snow while others don’t that those who are not impacted can be in school.
This plan has been shared with all school employees as well as parents and guardians of students.
In the past, if it snowed in Roan Mountain or at the head of Stoney Creek, often classes for the whole county were called off. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of the Virtual Platform, those students who are not impacted by snow can attend school while those who have snow can do their classes virtually.
“I believe that children need to be at school as often as they can for seven hours a day with teachers, school nurses, counselors, and coaches which is valuable,” said McAbee. “I know this has upset some folks and that’s OK because I know we all don’t have to agree.
“This will help adults as well because the way I understand you all have not had a Spring Break in a long time. By making better use of the virtual platform, it will help allow for Fall Breaks, Thanksgiving Breaks, Christmas Break, and a Spring Break that can be planned for instead of just blowing through snow days then having to cancel plans.”
McAbee also said that he realized that even with the zone plan, there will be days that cannot help but be called for inclement weather sighting snow throughout the area that breaks powerlines and knocking out internet.
He also admitted that snow days are just part of being a kid as well to stay home and play in the fluffy, white stuff.
The zones developed are as follows:
Happy Valley Elementary
Happy Valley Middle
Happy Valley High
McAbee also shared a scenario where a teacher that may work at Happy Valley High School lives at the head of Stoney Creek and while the low-lying area around Happy Valley doesn’t get any snow but snow has fallen at the head of Stoney Creek creating hazardous conditions and that teacher doesn’t feel safe driving to Happy Valley.
He said that it would be that teacher’s decision whether to make that drive or not but could possibly come in later if the road conditions improve or use Zoom and allow a teacher’s aide or sub to bring up Zoom in the classroom allowing for that teacher to present her lesson.
Board member Danny Ward brought up the question how will that teacher account for the day whether via using a personal day or vacation day as most employers request their employees to take some type of time off to account for their absence and to be fair to all the other teachers.
Ward said that a teacher recently called him and said that they were required to take a personal day due to this situation.
“Tell them to call me and we will work on correcting that,” McAbee said.
“I am not trying to hurt anyone. I am trying to do what is right for the kids. I am not overlooking the heroic efforts of our teachers and I try to encourage and thank them for what they have done.
“You respected their integrity when you hired them and I am going to trust that they make the right choices if they live where it’s dangerous to go in.”
McAbee further informed the board that if teachers do take advantage of the situation, just like any other case of not following the rules that supervisors will deal with the issue.
McAbee told the board that he had involved Sams to assist him with the zones to help him from making mistakes with the zone. Sams said that a lot of work had gone into the zones as he had the help of his staff as well as others throughout the county who he has trusted during inclement weather.
The Director of Schools went further to state that if anyone was upset with the zones not to call Sams but to call him.
“A lot of people don’t understand why some of these schools are in the zones they are in,” Sams said. “Most people don’t realize that 65 percent of the roads in the county dead end and that is where the road crew has to push the snow.
“The Carter County Highway Department does a tremendous job of cleaning the roads but at the end of these dead ends are where the buses actually have to turn around.”
Sams shared how Valley Forge ended up with Cloudland High School in Zone 1.
“When there is a good snow in Roan Mountain, usually a couple days later it warms up and the snow melts and ends up flowing downstream to Valley Forge which is lowland causing flooding and that is why Valley Forge was put in that zone.”
In other items shared during the workshop, McAbee advised the board that in meeting with Carter County Health Department’s Doctor Thomas and Caroline Hurt that he was told that the COVID numbers were looking bad as kids that are in quarantine is rising not so much by being infected but being around those that have COVID.
“When this started we were told that if we had a positivity rate of 5 percent we were doing good,” McAbee shared. “The rate now is 24.2 percent meaning that one out of every four test is positive.
“So two issues for next week, we may not be able to go Hybrid next week because we would be putting more folks at a higher risk so my recommendation is to go virtual and I suggest thinking about the first two weeks back after Christmas break on January 4 being on a Hybrid schedule given we would be out of school for 14 days.”
McAbee also shared how the health department had given advice that they now have enough data to support that extracurricular activities and athletic events is increasing community spread.
The recommendation was made with board members’ input that basketball games in the county will not allow spectators for either team – just players and coaches and possibly cheerleaders at home games.
Most felt it was important that the players and specifically the seniors deserve the opportunity to play the game they have worked hard to prepare for.
Some good news to report was that the county received a check for $13,000 from Tennessee Risk Management to reinvest where needed. The check came as the result of a decrease in accidents and injuries.
Dr. McAbee also advised that the Carter County Car Club had presented every elementary school a check for the purchase of library books.
The county also received a $26,350 grant from No Kid Hungry to help with the school’s feeding of children.