NEWPORT—Cocke County School System leaders continue to struggle with issues surrounding the 2020-2021 school year.

Leaders closed local schools March 16, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while teachers, parents, and students struggled and finished out the year through online learning and seniors finally graduated recently, the question of how and when to reopen schools remains unanswered.

“We’ll have an announcement sooner than later,” said Director of Schools Manney Moore during Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting, “regarding next year.”

Board member Richard Coggins posed the question, “How can we start back when it’s (the COVID-19 virus) is worse now than ever. It makes no sense to me.”

Moore, while acknowledging Coggins’ concerns, responded, “What you can’t do is NOT plan to go back and THEN go back. It will be much easier to be ready to go back.”

Moore and Assistant Director Casey Kelley referenced various plans being examined. “None of these plans is perfect,” said Moore. “You do the best you can. Probably most school districts will be in the same boat.”

Currently parents continue to be surveyed regarding their preferences for next year: complete return to classes, staggered days/classes, online learning, or a blend of onsite/online.

The fact that Cocke County provides bus service to transport students to and from school and the fact that several schools are overcrowded are key questions. “We’re not like Newport Grammar who has a lot bigger scale of space; we have a lot fewer spaces plus the bus issues,” said Kelley.

“Regardless of what happens,” Kelley continued, “we have to learn to be remote learners.”

Board members Darla Morgan and Dr. Ken Johnson expressed concerns about the board members attending the Tennessee School Board Association’s Summer Law Conference in Gatlinburg.

“Lots of information that has not been released might be shared at the conference,” said Kelley.

“My question,” said Morgan, “is about how it would look to the community for us to go to Gatlinburg, but then our students not return to school.” Morgan, who is in the health care industry, also said, “I worry about bringing the virus back to the people I care for.”

“I have reservations about us attending, too,” said Dr. Johnson.

After further discussion, the board agreed not to attend this year’s conference.

During their business meeting, board members approved

• a one-year (July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021) renewal of TN Risk Management Insurance for Property & Casualty ($266,544.00) and Workers’ Compensation ($113,288). Combined costs with a 2 percent Early Pay discount are $372,645.00).

• payment of an outstanding obligation of $4,900.00 to Lifetouch from Edgemont School; the obligation will carry over to the 2020-2021 school year.

• a contract with LeAnn Gregg to provide physical therapy services to one homebound student at the rate of $60 per hour for the coming school year

• a contract with Uriel Rivera CEO of Bridge Interpretive Services, LLC to provide interpretive services at the rate of $45 per hour plus $15 travel fees of IEP and other Special Education meetings for students with disabilities for which English is not the primary language of the home.

• a speech and language services contract with Curlee Communication Consultants for the coming year; contract will include ESY services at the rate of $60 per hour for services not billed to Tenncare or $30 per hour for half sessions.

• the following fundraisers for Bridgeport Elementary School for the 2020-2021 school year: Fall Pictures, Class Group Pictures, Spring Pictures, Coke Machine, Water Machine, Lanyard/Spirit Band sales

• a contract with PIE Consulting to provide support for AWARE grant program

• joining the PEPPM Cooperative Purchasing Group for bid protected technology purchases

• the purchase of Remind 101 program for a cost of $14,490.00.

The board’s next meeting will be Thursday, July 9, 2020.

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