The Lawrence County School Board met for its regular monthly meeting Aug. 18, fielding a barrage of questions about COVID-19 related concerns, and hearing frustrations from one board member. Other business of the board was voted on with very little discussion.
After approving the agenda and minutes from previous meetings, board members moved into a time of public comments.
Rev. Amos Bridges had requested to appear on the agenda and spoke on behalf of himself as a concerned citizen, the NAACP, and the school district’s bi-racial committee. He asked questions about the difference in virtual and distance learning and what is being done to improve technology in the district. He questioned the possibility of putting hotspots in homes so students who don’t have access to technology would have that ability.
Bridges also questioned whether or not sports will be allowed this fall and what form of testing will be done to ensure athletes are safe.
He also brought up the fact that parents of athletes are being required to sign waivers stating they understand the risks of exposure to coronavirus by playing sports. Bridges took issue with parents being required to sign the waiver. Superintendent Titus Hines, board members, and their attorney explained the COVID-19 waiver language has been added by the Mississippi High School Activities Association.
District One board member Mark Herbert questioned the difference in contracting COVID-19 and getting a knee blown out on the field, as far as a waiver is concerned, saying parents are already signing waivers for their students to participate.
Board president Wesley Bridges pointed out football is not essential.
Board attorney Jared Evans said the legislature has passed immunity for schools, and there must be extreme indifference on the part of the school system for legal action to be taken against it, meaning the waiver is more of a way to make sure players and their families understand the risks of participation.
No games will be played until after Labor Day and only two spectators per participant will be allowed in the stadium.
Hines addressed the question about hotspots by saying there are included in the district’s technology plan, but there is a process that must be followed, set out by the Mississippi Department of Education. He said officials are looking at places in the community to install hotspots as part of the process.
Herbert explained that distance learning includes virtual learning.
Amos Bridges also took issue with the process being used to purchase devices to issue to students, saying it is not good business to spend money the district doesn’t have.
The process outlined by the state requires districts to purchase devices and then get reimbursement for the expenditure. That process requires money be spent from the general fund that is not budgeted, in anticipation of getting it reimbursed. Orders must be placed by the district in September and paid for by December 1 in order to qualify for reimbursement. Delivery of the devices is not expected until late October or November.
Board members approved monthly financial reports by a 3-1-1 vote.
District three board member Dan Stuckey was on the agenda to speak and said that after 17 months on the board, he has learned a lot.
He went on to say that some concerned citizens are wearing their welcome out at the meeting, throwing a bunch of bull, suggesting pay raises the district can’t afford, and questioning local supplements for teachers. He said teacher pay is set by the state, and the district does what it can for a supplement.
He said the consent decree the district has operated under since the late 1980s has cost the district over $750,000 that might have gone to pay raises.
Read more in the August 26, 2020 E-Edition