Days before school begins, the Stone County School District is still working out the final details of reopening amidst growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state.

At the regular board meeting on Monday, August 3, several parents returned with repeated concerns over reopening and restrictions placed on students who choose the virtual option this year.

During public comment, parent Angelia Ross said her son is being punished for choosing the virtual option.

Ross said she did not realize that by choosing to limit interaction during the day she would forfeit her son's right to be in the band, beta club, or to attend prom.

“You’re denying them,” Ross said. “I know other districts are allowing the parents to make that choice.”

So far, 243 students have registered for the virtual option and 45 have registered as homeschooling. The original deadline for signing up for the virtual option is August 5.

One other parent, whose son plays on a sports team, said she chose the virtual option to limit the number of children in the classroom and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

She also did not realize virtual sign-up would make him ineligible to play sports.

“I don't think that’s fair,” she said. “He’s already made the team. He's already practiced with the team over the summer.”

She said since her children follow all rules set by the district, they should be eligible for the benefits.

Ross said she thinks she or her son should decide how to limit exposure in extracurriculars, not the school board.

After parents spoke, Board President Diane “Tasha” Johnson made a motion to allow virtual students to take part in extracurriculars as parents see fit.

Board member Nina Shaw said students in close contact sports would have a higher risk of being infected than in the classroom, which is why she thinks the policy should stay.

Johnson said the initial policy is too broad and takes away the rights of parents to determine what is best for their family.

She said students who want to join the band or other clubs, they should at least have the option to participate virtually by Zoom and some parents may feel more comfortable for their child to be at outdoor events instead of in a classroom.

Board members Jacob Smith and Rodney Beech said they assumed parents would not want their child to be exposed through extracurriculars, but they would are open to changing the requirement if they had more time to reach out to staff and coaches.

In agreement, Johnson withdrew her motion for changing the policy and declared a special meeting for Thursday, August 6 at 6 p.m.

Other parents came forward with concerns about the reopening plan.

Parent Laura Olier suggested the school use contact tracing so parents can make more informed decisions on whether to send their child to school.

Parent Shyra Galloway had several concerns.

Galloway said after speaking with cafeteria workers, she learned they are not required to wear masks.

She said she would like to see the district require masks for anyone handling food in the school since respiratory droplets could infect children who are exposed even when they are distanced and washing hands.

She also said she represents multiple parents when she says public meetings should be streamed on Facebook again.

Leah Wilborn and her husband, Jerry Wilborn, asked for mandated masks and temperature checks.

Wilborn said with case numbers growing rapidly, the district should be trying everything to be as safe as possible.

She also criticized Superintendent Inita Owen, and board members Rodney Beech and Jacob Smith for not wearing masks at public meetings.

“I’ve been to the last four board meetings now and you guys refuse to wear a mask,” she said gesturing to Owen, Beech, and Smith. “We’re asking our children to follow the rules that you guys lay out in the handbook. The fact that you won’t follow the rules the Governor has put out, voluntarily, really speaks to what it is we’re asking our kids to do.”

Wilborn said the board members who repeatedly were unmasked are disrespectful to healthcare workers who put their lives at risk every day.

When Wilborn and her husband finished speaking, attendees applauded them.

Johnson made a final motion to mandate masks to those who were medically able to wear one in the middle school and high school.

The motion died.

The board also:

• Agreed to host a joint hearing with the Stone County Board of Supervisors on August 17 to hear from Adranos, Inc, which is a rocket-testing company planning to lease property from the district.

• Dan O’Neal and Wynn Alexander donated 40 acres to be used for a new high school.

• Updated safety and training procedures for staff and students at Stone Middle School to prevent bullying, including having more staff available in the gym, more structured physical education programs in place, better training for substitute teachers, and better supervision for students.

• Renewed attorney agreement between the school district and Board Attorney Sean Courtney.

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