Following the COVID-19 diagnosis of a Benton County teacher and student last Thursday, Director of Schools Mark Florence and schools’ nursing staff completed a contact analysis. The outcome was compelling – more than 50 teachers and students fell within danger of contagion due to close contact with those who had been diagnosed.
“With COVID-19 numbers rising in the county, after consulting with members of the school board, we felt that we had no choice other than to delay the start of school,” Florence said. “If this outbreak had occurred when schools were already in session, likely we would not have had to take a break. I just couldn’t see getting the year off to a good start with 10 or more teachers out on quarantine from day one.”
Consequently, Benton County Schools did not begin the school year according to the approved calendar. Buses did not run, doors did not open, and no back to school greetings were heard on Monday, Aug. 3.
By the time school board members gathered for their scheduled August meeting on Monday night, Florence and his team of supervisors had put in a lot more work. They had crunched the numbers, juggled the requirements, and come up with a revised schedule that hopefully the school board would approve. In an 11-1 vote, that is what they did.
The first full day of classes for Benton County students now will be Wednesday, Aug. 19. Schools will hold their second administrative day on Tuesday, Aug. 11, followed by five days of professional development for teachers on Aug. 12-14 and 17-18.
Without further adjustment, this calendar would leave the school year five days short. To accommodate this, several days typically scheduled off will now become school days. Students will be expected to attend the Friday before Labor Day (Sept. 4), Fair Day Friday (Oct. 2), and the first three days of what would have been a full week of Fall Break (Oct. 5-7). There will be a short Fall Break on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 8-9. If the schedule doesn’t require further modifications before that, the school calendar will be back on track.
With the approval of the school board, sports teams at Benton County Schools are clear to proceed as of Tuesday, Aug. 4, as long as they follow the newly established TSSAA guidelines regarding health safety.
“This situation was a great test of the system, of the safeguards and precautions we have put in place,” Florence noted. “Based on what we learned from our contact analysis, we will all have to be more careful about social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands in order to have the school year we hope to have. At this point masks really need to be worn, by any student, teacher, or school visitor who can wear them, during times of the day when there is a lot of close contact. Masks are not mandated, but we encourage their use. We all have to try to stay as healthy as we can.”
If any parent or student has questions about the new school schedule, health precautions, sports activities, or other school matters, please visit the Benton County Schools website at www.BentonCountySchools.org, call the student’s school, or contact the central office at 731-584-6111.