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BOE considers face coverings

Whether to require face coverings in the classroom was debated, and defeated, Thursday by Loudon County Board of Education.

The decision comes only two weeks after the BOE approved a school reopening school plan and days after district officials agreed to stagger the return of students Aug. 7, 10 and 11.

Board members Kim Bridges and Gary Ubben motioned and seconded, respectively, to require that high school students and teachers wear masks inside buildings when social distancing was not possible. The vote failed 6-3, with board members Philip Moffett, Kenny Ridings, Brian Brown, Zack Cusick, Craig Simon and Scott Newman opposing. Board member Bobby Johnson Jr. was absent.

Before the vote, Ubben and board member Will Jenkins motioned and seconded, respectively, to amend Bridges’ motion to require all students and teachers wear face coverings. That vote failed 5-4, with Moffett, Bridges, Ridings, Cusick and Newman opposing.

Bridges said she spoke with a local pediatrician who recommended high school students and teachers wear face coverings. She also said received input from “a lot” of teachers and others in the community. As a teacher at Roane County Schools, she said said understood their concerns.

“My goal as a school board member is to represent the people who put me here,” Bridges said. “So when you bring a concern I’m going to bring it to the board for discussion, and how they vote is their choice, I can’t direct that. When teachers speak, they need someone that will listen and that’s what we’re here for is to listen, because we do represent students, by all means, and parents, but we also represent teachers. Sometimes they get lost in that shuffle, and so that was what made me bring it up is because I don’t teach high school but teachers do that are out there every day and they are concerned.”

Newman said he favored parental choice regarding face coverings.

“I think we need to let our parents make that decision,” he said. “I think they’ve done an excellent job of coming up with the options, and it’s for each parent. I’ve had a lot of parents come to me and say, ‘I’m so glad you didn’t mandate the masks because my kid couldn’t do it.’ On the other spectrum I’ve had some say — not really had any parents, I’ve had a couple teachers talk to me about wearing a mask. ... I thought that Mike (Garren, director of schools), he’s really been planning this for months, and with uncertain times it sucks. I mean it’s just one of those things that who knows what’s going to go on. I think with everything coming at us and what you believe and can’t believe, everything that he’s done is the best we can do.”

Newman encouraged those who wanted to wear masks to do so.

“You got to protect yourself and do what’s good for you,” he said. “I don’t know, I think people ought to have choices.”

According to the reopening plan, face coverings are recommended but not required.

“I think the masks topic is one that is always going to be a hot topic and that’s why I deferred to the board on that,” Garren said. “That’s not my decision, that’s a board decision, and if the board wanted to require a mask we would certainly move forward with that. They decided to stay with recommending masks and we could move forward with that. Whatever the board wants to do relative to that decision we will move forward with and I’m fine with whatever direction the board decides to go.”

Before a vote on masks, Jenkins and Bridges motioned and seconded, respectively, to delay in-person school for nine weeks and move to remote learning for that period before reevaluating the situation. Jenkins eventually withdrew his motion.

Virtual, continuous learningBoard members approved funding for academic program Florida Virtual School and teacher stipends to monitor students taking class virtually this year.

The stipends would cost $488,200, Chad Presley, county schools budget director, said. The county would take $318,400 from General Purpose School Fund 141 and $169,800 from Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief federal funding.

“We pulled the money out of the ESSER grant to purchase the program and then we devoted funds in the ESSER grant toward the stipends and then what we didn’t have left to finish covering it we pulled out of fund balance,” Garren said. “So we started with the grant and then we ran out of money in the grant we moved to fund balance.”

Florida Virtual School will provide the learning content while local teachers will monitor students. Teachers will offer learning support during scheduled office hours.

School representatives initially estimated about 300 students would participate in the service, but as of Thursday more than 800 were enrolled. The previous estimated cost was $60,000, Garren said.

“I was a little surprised because what we did was the community survey that we did with the 2,200 responses, we took the amount from that that people indicated virtual would be their option and then added 50 percent to it as a number to shoot for,” Garren said. “So when we more than doubled that I was a little surprised. I’m not necessarily surprised, but based on the survey numbers that we had before it was much greater than what we thought it would be. Though compared to the surrounding districts, it’s a little bit less than what they’re seeing so I’m pleased with that because it makes me feel like that our parents are more comfortable sending their kids back into our buildings.”

Garren hopes stipends will help teachers.

Students involved in online learning will be required to spend seven hours daily for five days a week. Teachers will conduct daily check-ins for attendance, progress monitoring, instructional support and feedback.

“Our district goes seven hours a day in order to stockpile inclement weather days,” Garren said.

A continuous learning plan was also passed. Garren said the plan was submitted to the state Friday and approved Monday.

If COVID interrupts school, remote learning will begin within three days for students impacted. According to the plan, for the first three days teachers have created “skill-building and spiral review activities” that can be obtained either electronically or in physical copies from the school. All students will have access to either a laptop or iPad.

Students and teachers will focus on learning how to hold class remotely if needed in the future.

“Classroom teachers will continue synchronous instruction remotely by streaming instruction via Microsoft Teams or Zoom, providing resources and instructional materials, and checking in with students daily for attendance and support,” according to the plan. “Students without internet can still access the same high-quality instruction and materials asynchronously with videos/ebooks/instructional materials accessed via flash drive.

“... To facilitate the start of 2020, the district purchased additional student laptops in April,” the plan added. “With CARES Act funds, LCBOE has purchased more than 500 iPads for K-1, purchased virtual school licenses from Florida Virtual School, purchased Zoom Pro accounts for teachers, provided stipends for teachers for professional development and to be the teacher of record for virtual school, bought laptop cases, at-home internet filtering and flash drives for each student.”

Bridges likes the plan.

“I think that there’s lots of thought to go into that plan to show that if we go out of school, and we’re out for three days, then remote learning will take place,” Bridges said. “So that kids there won’t be a moment of being caught off guard like there was in the spring because no one saw that coming and then all of a sudden we were trying to figure it out. So that’s over. This has set it up so that, ‘Hey listen, you go out of school, in three days this is going to take place.’ I think it’s important that kids have that moment to learn how to use that Zoom and how to use the meets and by getting in school they’ll learn so should it happen then there won’t be that moment of what do we do, because now teachers have had the professional development to get to that point where they feel very comfortable in using it.”

COVID-19 increase continues

Vehicles are daily lined along Rayder Avenue in Loudon waiting to pull up for COVID-19 testing at Loudon County Health Department.

Teresa Harrill, county health department director, said on average about 40-50 tests are conducted each day.

“Very high demand. I mean one day this week they did 100,” she said.

The Tennessee Department of Health on Tuesday morning reported a total of 544 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Loudon County. There are 226 active cases, and 315 people have recovered. Total negative cases amount to 5,895. There have been three deaths.

“I think we’re seeing that because of Fourth of July, because more people are being a little more lax about wearing a mask, about social distancing,” Harrill said. “I mean I just see it when I’m out.”

Testing at the health department could likely see a boost thanks to a faster turnaround with a new lab.

Harrill said state East Region health departments July 16 changed from AEL labs in Knoxville to Aegis labs in Nashville, which could offer a two- to three-day turnaround for results. Previously, results could take more than week, which proved “very frustrating.”

“We got back some July 1 tests like July 20. I mean that’s 20 days,” Harrill said. “They’re already out of isolation, and you wouldn’t believe the number of calls we had about that because people were like, ‘Well, I got my test results back and I’ve already done my quarantine’.”

Longer wait times could be a result of a backlog, she said. Hopes are the new lab won’t have that problem.

“I think the reason for that is because it wasn’t just department of health, it’s all your primary care doctors, it’s hospitals. There are so many people using AEL,” Harrill said Friday. “I think sometimes we tend to forget that because the hospitals, they’re testing but not the volume we are and local doctors are, too. I mean these ladies have tested over 3,000, probably getting close to 4,000 now.”

Harrill encourages people to quarantine while awaiting results.

“The main thing is the masks and 6 foot and less than 10 minutes,” she said. “If somebody’s around somebody that’s positive for less than 10 minutes and 6 foot apart, chances of contracting are very low.”

Testing at Loudon County Health Department is 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. weekdays. For more information, call the department at 865-458-2662.

Harrill asked for people to call in advance to speed up the process.

“First off, the nursing staff and the front desk staff are very, very efficient and it is overwhelming for us because of the number of calls and people can’t get through,” Harrill said. “A lot of times when people just — we do have people that just show up in line, and that’s OK, but it makes it harder for the nurses because they’re not only testing, and there’s only two (registered nurses) testing so it’s not like we have this huge staff. So they’re testing and then they still have to bag it, get it ready for the lab. They put it in our system, then they have to put it in the lab, get it ready to ship, I mean that’s every single day. So it’s not only just the testing, it’s all the pre and the post.”

Physicians Care walk-in clinic in Lenoir City also provides COVID-19 testing and has seen a steady number of requests.

“I mean we’re busy trying to do everything we can for our area and trying to do COVID testing as much as we can,” Bo Baker, office manager, said.

Average turnaround is two or three days, he said.

“There’s an increase in testing,” Baker said. “I mean it’s with everybody being tested now there’s an increase. ... it’s pretty much whenever it first came out, this is when COVID first started happening, there wasn’t as huge an impact as first but then it increased. It’s just steady.”

Fort Loudoun Primary Care also provides testing.

“Fort Loudoun Primary Care offers testing for COVID-19 during regular operating hours at our convenient walk-in clinic,” Stephanie Nichols, Covenant Medical Group director of clinic services and quality initiatives, said. “If you are not already a patient at Fort Loudoun Primary Care, you must register as a new patient when you come to the clinic for COVID-19 testing.

“Similar to other parts of Tennessee, coronavirus cases have increased in our region and we are seeing an increase in the number of people coming in for testing,” she added. “... We urge people to wash hands frequently, wear a mask/face covering, practice social distancing, clean frequently touched surfaces regularly and stay home if you are sick. Please don’t hesitate to seek prompt medical care if you need it, and continue with your regular health appointments and screenings.”

School bands gear up for year

Loudon High School band students battled the heat and kept at a distance to prepare for the coming year.

The camp that ended Friday included 57 students.

“We’ve taken contact hours down,” Jennifer Conway, LHS band director, said. “We used to go 8 (a.m.) to 4 (p.m.) with a lunch in between and instead of doing that we have gone 8 (a.m.) to 12 (p.m.) with a dismissal and then specific groups come back at night from 6 to 9.

“... We keep social distancing on the breaks and then the recommendation is a four step in marching band language,” she added. “That’s over 6 feet in metrics.”

With COVID-19 prevalent, Conway wanted to break the performances into three segments. Hopes are for each segment to sound well alone and when combined.

“If we had a game at any point now we could play this segment and we would have a show of some fashion,” Conway said. “As the season progresses, if we are able to, we will keep adding segments. So I really compartmentalized how we’re going to do it and I can start and stop the show at any point so if we get called out of school for sickness, I don’t have to worry about, ‘I won’t get the rest on.’ I can play the segments that we have.”

Students focused on the first segment on hometown heroes last week, which included “Hail to the Redskins,” the LHS fight song, and rock band Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home.”

Other segments include a small-town segment with “Small Town” and “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp and a final segment “Home” by Phillip Phillips.

The idea is for all three to be based around their hometown, Conway said.

“With everything that’s happened in our community with the coronavirus, I decided instead of doing a typical competitive band show, I decided to do a hometown show,” Conway said. “Each week we are going to honor specific groups of hometown heroes, and I’ve written it into the show where whichever groups we decide, which I’m not telling right now, are going to be able to run through to the fight song just like the football team runs out at the beginning of the game.

“Just to kind of give a little respect to all of the extra work that people did over the span of the quarantine and just to kind of bring a little more spirit to our town, because it’s been such a hard time for everybody,” she added.

She hopes to focus first on cafeteria workers, bus drivers and volunteers responsible for delivering food to children over the break.

“Our band director, Jennifer Conway, along with assistant director of bands, Lisa Michaels, have worked so hard to get the students ready while demanding appropriate safety measures were in place for camp,” Scott MacKintosh, LHS principal, said in an email correspondence. “I can’t express how proud I am of those ladies and all who work with the band. ... Our band and its directors remain very flexible and that is what is important to show students. The ability to try and foresee several scenarios and have a plan ready to deploy when things change.”

Band camp serves multiple roles and helps lay the foundation for the year.

“They haven’t seen each other in a long time, so it’s been at least starting to make it feel more normal again,” Conway said. “I think that will be good for them as we start the school year. They’ll have already been here and have had some of the protocols so that the starting of the school in a pandemic won’t feel so daunting for them.”

For senior drum majors Jacob May and Adele Lee, camp made a difference.

“It’s really important for me to be able to do it, especially during this time because it kind of gives us a sense of normalcy,” May said. “It kind of gives us a feeling that even though we are faced with regulations, this band is still family and we can still function like a family.”

“We just make it a flexible show that we play it when we are able to and when we can practice,” Lee added. “It’s not that difficult. It’s not that challenging to be able to change.”

Both said the camp was a good way to bond with peers.

“It’s given us new ways to meet everyone and get to know everyone,” May said. “Like instead of getting in a group and playing a game, we can be 6 feet apart and just talk.”

Lenoir City High School band students could be seen practicing on the field July 20-28. So far, 60 students are participating, Adam Huff, LCHS band director, said.

“Because of COVID, this year has been quite different,” Huff said in an email correspondence. “We decided to shorten the overall time spent in camp this year as compared to previous years. In previous years we would rehearse about 70 hours in a two-week time period. This year we will spend less than 30 hours together rehearsing during camp. We are also taking temperatures every day when students and staff enter the building and social distancing whenever possible. When we cannot social distance we are requiring students and staff to wear masks.”

Huff said students and staff adapted to have fun during camp.

“With all the uncertainty over the football season and what the fall semester will look like we have decided to do a fun halftime show and really work on the fundamentals of music this year,” Huff said. “We’ve entitled our show ‘Reboot’ and it includes music from Pentatonix, Journey and Elton John. We plan to play all three songs together as a halftime show performance, but depending on how the fall semester progresses we realize that could change at any time.”

LCHS senior Julianne Moss, who serves as drum major, felt camp went well.

“This band camp has been so different because we have had to change many things from previous years, but everyone has adapted well and we are looking forward to performing this year,” Moss said.

County panel seeks advice on ethics issue

The Loudon County Ethics Committee on Monday asked county attorney Bob Bowman to investigate if Loudon County Juvenile Director Kevin Curbow violated the county ethics policy.

Committee members examined an incident, including officer body cam footage, from late June at McGhee Square Apartments in which Curbow, along with two others, interacted while intoxicated with Lenoir City Police.

An apartment manager called 911 and banned Curbow from the premises after the trio allegedly refused to abide by a night curfew.

Committee members Kelly Littleton-Brewster and Matthew Tinker motioned and seconded, respectively, to seek a legal opinion from Bowman. The vote passed 3-0. Committee member Eddie Simpson was absent.

The panel consists of five seats, with others being held by Bill Satterfield and vacant spot that could soon be filled by Scott Newman.

Committee members wondered if an ethical violation had occurred involving a juvenile Curbow interacted with previously at the juvenile center.

“We need to know for sure if he committed an ethical violation and we’ll use our attorney to look at the laws and look at the statutes to see if in fact he did,” Tinker said. “If he didn’t, that’s what he’ll tell us. If he did, he’ll tell us that and then we’ll recommend some sort of disciplinary action after that. But I think it’s only fair to Mr. Curbow to have the attorney look at it because neither Kelly, me or Mr. Satterfield are attorneys, so we don’t have all the information to make that decision.

“... The part about mentioning another child while out in public, if he’s acting inappropriately, that’s why I asked if that sort of thing was in his contract or is understood under his ethical rules,” he added. “If it is, then that’s a problem. If it isn’t, it’s up to his boss to handle that situation.”

Loudon County General Sessions Court Judge Rex Dale, Curbow’s supervisor, was present during Monday’s meeting. Dale said he has since disciplined Curbow by requiring he abide by the apartment complex ban and apologize to the property’s manager in early July. Dale said Curbow has no prior incidents on his record.

Curbow was not present Monday. He said Tuesday morning he was not made aware of the meeting.

“I’ve been employed here, it’ll be 15 years in September, never had one complaint against me,” Curbow said. “I did apologize to management for anything that happened over there that evening. I’m willing to abide by anything the ethics committee and the supervisor decide on.”

Bowman said he plans to investigate and will have a letter ready with a recommendation, if needed, to send back to the committee.

“It’s very disturbing on the police body cam footage that he kind of made reference to his position and the phone calls he would make about the situation,” Littleton-Brewster said. “The thing that really upset me more was the fact that he had a casual conversation about a juvenile and some of the aspects, and as a teacher, I know how wrong it is to get out and discuss students.”

Littleton-Brewster said during the incident Curbow did say he would call Lenoir City Police Chief Don White.

During the meeting, Bowman referenced county policy.

“An official or employee may not use or authorize the use of county time, facilities, equipment or supplies for private gain advantage to himself as a member of any group with which the official or employee is affiliated,” Bowman said. “County time, facilities, equipment and supplies are to be used only for the benefit of the county. So that’s what the policy says and I don’t know whether you can infer him identifying himself as with juvenile services if that falls — if that’s in violation of that paragraph.”

If Bowman believes an ethical violation occurred, Tinker said the matter would then revert to Dale.

“He’s kind of dealt with it in one aspect, but ethically it would go back to him because he said he has not addressed the ethical issue,” Tinker said.

Dale said he had not seen the police body cam footage.

“I would be very, very, very disappointed if Judge Dale, if that’s all he was going to do,” Satterfield said during the meeting. “If he didn’t look into the rest of the tape and all he could come up with is, ‘Don’t do that again.’ I think it really undermines his ability to do his job.”