TCSS board members agree to continue mask policy for now

Published 6:00 am Friday, September 24, 2021

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At their Tuesday work session, the Troup County School Board informally agreed to continue requiring masks for staff and students in its facilities.

“For the time being, it’s working out very well,” said TCSS Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate. “Kids are used to it. Teachers are used to it.”

He explained that the school system is very cautious with visitors, asking them to be vaccinated, having them wear masks, requiring that they socially distance themselves from students, and only allowing them to visit schools for “very specific” academic purposes.

“I think masks have helped us stay open,” he said, explaining that school districts without mask requirements had more cases.

Chairwoman Cathy Hunt said that a lot of school staff members have told her that mask compliance is good with about 99% of students.

“We talked about trying to come up with some kind of metrics to look at,” she said. “In my opinion, we need to look at several things. We need to look at our case numbers in school. We need to look at the case numbers in the county. We need to look at the hospital situation. We need to talk to our neighbors … what the counties around us are doing.”

Hunt said while everyone is ready to “start taking some Band-Aids off,” she agreed with Shumate and that TCSS was able to stay open last year because of precautions it took.

In other business at the meeting, Jonathan Laney, director of secondary education, and Deana Brown, elementary curriculum director, gave an update on the virtual school.

At the elementary school level, 152 students are enrolled.

“It’s 19 kindergarten students, 24 first grade, 23 second grade, 28 third grade, 28 fourth grade, and 30 fifth grade,” Brown said. “There is a teacher for each grade level at this point. So, we have six teachers and one facilitator. The facilitator is serving to answer any parent phone calls, assist with technology concerns at home for parents. She does monitor the classes on a regular basis. She goes into where she can see those. And then she also fills in as a substitute as needed when one of our teachers has to be out for some reason.”

Brown said students at the elementary level get four hours of online instruction, along with art, music and physical education. With two teachers and the facilitator being gifted-certified, the school is also able to provide gifted services.

“Intervention services are being provided by the virtual teachers in small groups in the afternoon, so even though they’re just face-to-face with students in the mornings, they really are busy all day long doing the small group instruction, trying to get some things caught up for some kids,” Brown said.

Laney said that at the middle school level, there are 110 virtual students.

“Kids are in instruction for five hours a day,” he said. “That’s four core and one elective, and they switch electives every nine weeks. And right now, I think it’s running pretty smoothly.”

Laney said the middle school virtual teachers are being housed at LaGrange High School.

At the high school level, there are 140 students. Laney said classes at the high school level, for the most part, are blended.

“So if [virtual] kids in regular class are in class, they’re in class on camera,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot of difference. It’s just where they’re located.”

During the superintendent’s report, Shumate introduced TCSS’s new public relations director, Irisha Goodman.

“Irisha comes to us from the broadcasting world, originally in Albany, Georgia and Columbus, Georgia and then moved to Roanoke, Virginia as a newsperson,” he said.

Goodman introduced herself and talked about starting her new job.

“I’ve been in LaGrange for a few days,” she said. “[The] first day was last Thursday, and [my] first day on the job was yesterday. It’s been a busy two days, and everyone has been really nice. It’s just been a pleasure to be here, and I’m blessed to work with a great group of people.”

Shumate said that enrollment for August of this year was at 12,126, 46 more than last year.