Hamilton County School Board Approves COVID Leave & New School; Dodges Virtual Learning Discussion

Photo: District 8 Hamilton County School Board Member, Tucker McClendon

Photo Credit: Hamilton County Schools / YouTube

Published August 20, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative Staff-

Hamilton County School Board members approve school repairs and COVID leave for teachers but fail to address the system’s virtual learning program as expected.

Chattanooga, Tennessee At Night

The school board met Thursday night for the regular board meeting. On the agenda were quite a number of topics, including school updates, ESSER spending, and virtual learning.

Although virtual learning was on the agenda for a first and final read, it was not discussed in the meeting. This exclusion comes as one area high school goes virtual temporarily. 

Parents stood outside the meeting to protest on both sides of the masking argument.

Parent Carmen Hunter said, “We are traumatizing our children every single day by sending them to school with masks.”

However, parent Taylor Lyons said her children accepted it without complaint.

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School board member Joe Smith said, “We continue to believe it’ll all be about parent choice with regard to the decision they’re making for their children.”

The board did, however, discuss the approval of paid COVID leave for teachers who were quarantined to alleviate the burden of using up sick time in those cases. 

The initial motion was for five days of paid COVID leave, but board member Tucker McClendon proposed that the motion be amended to seven days to better accommodate the actual length of most quarantines. He stated that this would take some unnecessary financial burden off of teachers, especially new teachers who did not have sick leave built up.

Board members agreed with the extension, and the board member Jenny Hill made a motion that they amend it to also allow teachers to use the COVID leave if they had a child, who was also a student of Hamilton County Schools, that had to quarantine.

Board member Rhonda Thurman voiced concerns that they were going too far at that point because other Hamilton County residents did not get to stay home with their children in those cases without oftentimes taking the financial hit of having time off.

The motion to amend to allow the days to be used for minor dependents passed with a 5-3 vote. Thurman voted against it, as did Smith and Chairman Joe Wingate. 

The final vote to approve the COVID leave days was unanimous by the board.

Added to the lengthy list of delegations were three students from Tyner High. The students addressed the board regarding the state of disrepair that the school has fallen into. According to students, the buildings leak constantly, bricks fall from the exterior, and the health conditions have grown increasingly worse.

“It has gotten so bad to the point where mold and rust is not developing in our classrooms. Our AV production class is missing all of its ceiling tiles, and it is literally raining,” said senior Jaylan Sims.

Students at Tyner protested the conditions on Wednesday, with around 100 seniors walking out of class. This came shortly after students found out that freshmen would be unable to occupy the Freshman 400 building because of a collapsed support beam, leaving them to be pushed into classrooms in other buildings with teachers have to relocate to accommodate them.

A 2020 study of the building facilities found that it would be too costly to repair the buildings, leaving the system with only the option of a rebuild. 

According to McClendon, who represents District 8 on the board, $25 million of ESSER funds for COVID-19 relief have been allocated for the building of a new school. He says more funding is needed to cover the final costs.

“I am ashamed of the condition of many of our schools. We have kids going to school in condemned buildings. Yeah, they’re fed up. I’m fed up. I hope this Tyner situation is a wakeup call,” McClendon said.

Board member Marco Perez also noted the need to move quickly and praised the students for being willing to stand up and speak out.

“If there is something we should be angry about, it is these buildings. Students deserve to be in buildings that are not falling apart and that are not dangerous,” Perez said. “With a building that starts crumbling, it can happen with kids inside. As a community we cannot accept this.

Ultimately, the board approved hiring an architect to draw up plans for a new Tyner Middle/High School. Deputy Superintendent Justin Robertson announced that the building must be completed by August 2024 in order for the system to use the $25 million in ESSER funds towards the construction.

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