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Masks won’t be mandatory in PC schools ... for now

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With the 2021-22 school year set to begin Aug. 6, mark the Putnam County Charter School System as one in Georgia that will not require – but strongly recommend – face coverings for all students and staff.

That’s in the new Return to School Plan, a draft of which was shown at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. The first page of that draft, though, states that changes could be made based on any guidance received from the local health department.

There was even a recommendation from the board’s chairman to change part of the plan’s wording on the opening page from “may be” to “is.”

“We’ve had a health and safety team that’s been meeting now for about two or three months … to be ready to provide a document moving into the 2021-22 school year,” said Putnam School Superintendent Eric Arena. “For the most part, all of the protocols we had in place last year are going to be in place moving forward. There have been a few modifications.”

For one, “strongly encouraged” social distancing was moved from six feet down to three. Quarantine for anyone with confirmed COVID-19, symptomatic or asymptomatic, is 10 days from the onset of symptoms, down from 14. Arena said, per Gov. Brian Kemp, they loosened the mask protocol to ‘highly recommend.’ He added the sanitation protocols continue.

“This document could change,” said Arena. “We have the caveat in this document to change some of the protocols.”

Board member Simone Jones asked about COVID vaccine requirements, and Arena answered that Putnam County’s system does not have one for students or staff.

“Everybody is welcome to wear a mask, vaccinated or not,” said Arena. “We are not requiring that in the schools.

“We loosened that at the end of last school year per the direction that came out from the Department of Public Health. We maintained that throughout the summer.”

Arena also described the coronavirus – along with the Delta variant – situation they are facing as “fluid.” The system will start with the protocols outlined in the plan, and if conditions change as they did last year, he said there will be a need to adjust.

In reference to the paragraph about potential change during the school year, Board chairman Dr. Steve Weiner suggested making “may be subject to change …” “is subject to change.”

“We’re going to follow the guidance,” said Weiner. “We’re not going to end up secondguessing the health department. If they tell us, ‘It is our opinion that we should …,’ I would assume that we will.

“I would change that to make it very clear.”

The first page of the plan draft also states:

“Putnam County Charter School System will continue to implement strategies to ensure that the safety of staff and students remain the primary focus and priority.”

Arena said the final draft of the Return to School plan will be posted this week.

A question also brought up at the board’s work session one week before was about the number of requests for virtual learning, and Laura Melton, director special programs, said it wasn’t even a “handful.” She said it’s being addressed at each school level, and Weiner wanted to make sure it’s clear that it was still an option. Melton said those parents interested need to contact their school’s principal.

This is also spelled out under “Academic Learning Options” in the Return to School plan.

“One should be prepared for an unpleasant situation,” said Weiner.

Arena said they basically had 180 “first days of school” last year and expects the same this year as each day could be completely different.

Seven years in a row

The Putnam County Charter School System, for the seventh year in a row, achieved a status Arena said less than 25 percent of the systems in Georgia reach. The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts bestowed upon the PCCSS the Award for Distinction of Excellent Financial Reporting for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.

“(Finance Director Coretta) Harris and her team have achieved this now for seven consecutive years,” said Arena. “The only reason it’s not eight years is because the Department of Audits didn’t give an award but for seven years.”

Among the criteria for the award, as Arena read, are submitting quality financial statements and supporting documentation in a timely manner, annual financial reports free of significant deficiencies or weaknesses, and compliance with all transparency and government requirements.

“Thank each of you for the part that you play in this,” said Arena to the members of Harris’ team present, calling what they do a “thankless” and “tiring” responsibility. “I truly appreciate your leadership and each and every one of your hard work. I do appreciate the fact that we are in the black.”

“Speaking for myself and on behalf of my colleagues, I would like to thank you for all that you do and recognize it takes such a talent and special character to be able to tell people things they don’t want to hear and have them understand they have to do it anyway,” said Weiner.

“It makes our job so much easier when we know we have a team that’s making sure money is going where it’s supposed to,” said Arena.

In other business, the three present members of the Board (Doris Clemons was absent) approved advertising the FY 2022 budget as well as the Current Tax Digest and Five Year History of Levy, the latter of which shows a millage rollback to 14.9 from 15.772. The first public forum on the budget is Aug. 9 at 6 p.m., prior to the board’s scheduled work session. The second public forum is Aug. 16 at 5 p.m., and the budget will be considered for approval that same evening.

The Board also approved the Student Code of Conduct 2021-22 and the purchase of nutrition equipment for Putnam County Primary and Elementary schools.