COVID-19

WISE — All Wise County Schools employees will get a hazard pay stipend for their roles in getting the division through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wise School Board Tuesday voted 7-0 to give all full-time staff and faculty a $1,000 one-time stipend for the 2020-21 academic year and part-time employees a $500 stipend from a combination of state coronavirus relief funds allocated in October and local school funds. Superintendent Greg Mullins recommended the stipend based on information from state education officials and neighboring school divisions that the relief funds could be used to cover costs of COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Mullins said the stipend would recognize the efforts of teachers and school staff in daily sanitation and cleaning as well as teachers’ close contact with students. Teachers and custodial staff are considered at medium risk under state health guidelines, while bus drivers and food service staff also perform duties in proximity to students.

Division Finance Director Beth Shupe said the stipends would still leave adequate relief funds to cover personal protective equipment needs.

Updating the division’s status on COVID-19 cases, Mullins said four students and 10 staff and faculty are now in quarantine after exposure to infected persons, and four active positive cases have been recorded. While two outbreaks have been reported by the Virginia Department of Health during the pandemic, one of the outbreaks has been designated as closed and the other as pending closed.

Mullins said the most recent cases and quarantines have not occurred in clusters at a few schools.

“We are not at the stage where we haven’t been unable to provide services at schools,” Mullins said.

Mullins told board members that, if case incidences rose to a level where schools would have to be closed or schedules changed from the current four-day in-person class week, “We’re prepared to do that.”

The Virginia High School League is close to readying COVID-19 guidelines for winter sports when they begin in December, Mullins said, and schools and VHSL officials will be addressing limits on attendance at indoor and outdoor events. Virginia schools’ athletic events are now limited to total attendance of 250, including teams, referees, coaches, bands, cheerleaders and spectators.

Since athletic event attendance has been limited, Mullins said, gate receipts that help fund sports other than football and basketball are lower this year. Attendance limits also would limit how many athletes’ parents could attend their games, and Mullins recommended eliminating free event passes for the school year.

Mullins said the National Federation of State High Schools Associations could offer an alternative for sports fans wanting to watch games live or later via streaming services. Cameras for that service are expected to be set up this year in the county’s high schools and off-campus facilities such as Bullitt Park in Big Stone Gap, division Technology Director Scott Kiser said.