BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s Board of Education has approved a revised 2021-22 general purpose school budget, reflecting revenue changes made by the county commission.

It also has adopted COVID-19 protocols of sorts for opening the new school year.

The year is to start with no mask mandate, although masks will be allowed in schools, no restrictions on athletic event attendance, and no requirements to have a COVID vaccination for students, staff, faculty or others on campuses.

However, board members at the Tuesday meeting said COVID protocols are not what the approved opening plan would be called, and interim Director Evelyn Rafalowski said she will come up with a better name for the 12-part document the board approved 5-0 with two absent.

WHAT WAS BUDGET CHANGE?

The budget change reflects that the $89,691,002 budget will have $1,025,574 in property tax revenue supplanted by a like amount of sales tax revenue. The plan designates nearly $9 million in fund balance to be used to balance the budget, and it funds a salary equalization plan for teachers plus 4% raises for teachers and other school system employees.

At the end of the meeting, BOE member Michael Hughes spoke at length about attempted actions by Commissioner Herschel Glover over the years to cut education funds, although Commissioner Mark Vance spoke at the end of the meeting during public comment about looking ahead rather than in the rear view mirror.

Vance emphasized that proponents of teacher pay increases to get closer to area city school systems finally won with this school budget, which the commission approved on July 8.

WHAT ABOUT PROTOCOLS?

“We still believe that COVID vaccines are a personal decision, and the school district will not require vaccination for COVID,” Rafalowski said, reading from the draft copy of the protocols to be given a new, yet-to-be-determined title.

In addition, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department — not school nurses or any other school employees — will do contact tracing, quarantines and isolations. Students living in a household with someone who tests positive may be required to stay at home for 20 days, “depending on individual circumstances,” the protocols say.

The protocols also point out that students and staff with vaccinations will not be subject to quarantine unless they test positive for COVID and that some research indicates vaccines may lessen the ability of the virus to mutate into variants.

The protocols also will not require temperature taking before school starts, although parents are asked not to send students who are sick or have a fever to school. Athletic events will have no limit on the number of spectators unless the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) “or another governing agency” says otherwise.

The school system will not release daily case counts; will return to cafeteria-served meals, which will include free breakfasts and lunches for all students; field trips will return as allowed on a case-by-case basis; sanitization and hygiene practices are to continue; water fountains will close but water filling stations will be open; and students can bring their own water bottles.

As for the Virtual Learning Academy, Rafalowski said although the school system’s application for a virtual operation was approved by Tennessee, plans are not to use it this coming school year.

“This is something that is there just in case,” Rafalowski said. “Currently, we do not have a plan to operate a Virtual Learning Academy.”

The document ends with a disclaimer that the guidelines may be changed quickly as health conditions dictate, but the school system will communicate that quickly to families and the community.

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