The Grainger County School Board

Laura Lakins/Grainger Today

The Grainger County School Board voted to delay the beginning of the school year until August 10, implement a staggered school schedule and require parents to sign a disclaimer stating the school system will not be responsible for any child who contracts COVID-19 while at school.


Laura Lakins

Grainger Today Reporter

RUTLEDGE – A new calendar was adopted by the Grainger County Board of Education (BOE) at its meeting Tuesday, July 21, delaying the start of the school year until August 10. 

The calendar was altered to accommodate training county teachers will need to prepare for the 2020-21 school year due to COVID-19. Director of Schools Dr. James Atkins said there were three options board members could choose from. He said the board could choose to continue with the school calendar it had already adopted, or it could choose to adopt one of two options. Both new calendars removed five snow days and exchanged them for staff development days. Atkins said there was a small difference between both options. 

Calendar option one allowed for two weeks of staff development at the beginning of the school year during the weeks of Monday, August 3 and Monday, August 10. 

Calendar option two allowed the week of Monday, August 3 to be used for staff development. Then beginning the week of Monday, August 10, the school system would have four consecutive Wednesdays for staff development. 

Atkins had Special Education Supervisor Lisa Setsor and Supervisor of Instruction Staci Gray create a survey for teachers to vote for which option they preferred. Atkins said 53 percent of the teachers who completed the survey selected option two.

With option two, staff development will be held the week of Monday, August 3 through Friday, August 7. School will begin for students Monday, August 10, and staff development will be held Wednesday, August 12, Wednesday, August 19, Wednesday, August 26 and Wednesday, September 2. 

Atkins said regardless of which option the board chose, he would recommend staggering student attendance between days. He said he would like for no more than 50 percent of students to be present each day. 

Board member Norma Tate said teachers wanted to be prepared before they enter their classrooms, and they currently don’t feel prepared at all. Atkins agreed they were not currently prepared.

“That’s not the teacher’s fault,” said Atkins.

He said the lack of preparedness was the reason for the extra staff development days. 

Atkins said there would be teachers who were not comfortable with the training material by the end of staff development. Teachers will have to spend extra time preparing for class. Atkins said teachers would need to start the school day at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. He recommended the board wait until the end of the school year to pay teachers for the extra time due to the lack of clarity for what COVID-19 may cause during the upcoming school year. He said teachers would be paid for every hour they serve beginning in August. 

Board member Derek Williams made a motion to adopt calendar option two with a staggered student schedule. Board member Marcus Long seconded. The motion passed with a 6-4 vote, board members Tate, Karen McNish, Gary Staley and Larry Turley casting the dissenting votes. 

The BOE also approved a COVID-19 disclaimer at its meeting. 

The disclaimer states that Grainger County School System will not be held responsible for any student contracting COVID-19 during its 2020-21 school year. Parents will be required to sign the disclaimer stating they understand the school system cannot guarantee their child will not contract COVID-19 while attending school. Director of Schools Dr. James Atkins said he had originally planned to have a document for school employees to sign as well, but was advised by Human Resources Supervisor Chad McElhaney he did not need a disclaimer for employees.

A portion of the disclaimer states, “While the district hopes that everyone remains safe and healthy during this trying time, it also wants to remain both honest and transparent with our parents about the very real risk posed by COVID-19, both inside and outside our schools.”

Atkins said the disclaimer is meant to inform parents Grainger County Schools cannot guarantee students will not acquire COVID-19.

“We can take every precaution necessary, but we can’t guarantee it. So, this is a means for us to protect ourselves from litigation,” said Atkins.

He said the disclaimer was strongly suggested by Chuck Cagle, who is an attorney with Lewis Thomason. 

A motion to approve the disclaimer was made by board member Donnie Kitts. It was seconded by board member Derek Williams. The motion passed in a unanimous vote.

The next BOE meeting will be held Tuesday, August 18 at 7:30 p.m. Meetings are currently open to the public.