Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Oconee County Schools Reviewing Options On School Reopening, Superintendent Tells School Board

***Waiting On Report Of COVID-19 Spread In County***

Oconee County School Superintendent Jason Branch told the Board of Education at its meeting on Monday that he and his staff are reviewing the guidelines from the Georgia Department of Public Education and the Georgia Department of Public Health to determine how schools will reopen in the fall.

The two state departments had released earlier in the day guidelines for school systems regarding the reopening of schools following their closure this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That document offers different scenarios for school systems, based on the spread of the disease in the community being served, and schools are expected to reopen this fall with in-person classes, distance learning, or a hybrid model.

Branch told the Board that the school system had welcomed back that day its 12-month staff to schools around the county and to the central offices.

“It was wonderful to see so many staff in-person after several weeks and months of virtual meetings and challenging environments,” Branch said.

Among the continuing challenges facing the school system is the lack of a state budget, and the Board at its meeting next week will be asked to approve a resolution to continue spending for July and August at roughly the same level as last year.

Superintendent’s Report

During his scheduled report to the Board, Branch referenced the document entitled Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools released earlier in the day.

Screen Shot During Superintendent's Report

That document offers different recommendations to school systems based on whether there is Substantial Spread, Minimal/Moderate Spread, or Low/No Spread of COVID-19 in the community.

The level of community spread of the disease is to be determined by state and local public health officials, and Branch reported on the school web site that “OCS has not yet received a determination of its level of community spread.”

Branch told the Board that he and other administrators will be reviewing the more than 4,000 responses from the school community to a survey on “Returning to School and Distance/Digital Learning.”

He said the goal is to learn “from our school community about their preferences and understandings of what we just lived through.”

The adopted school calendar had called for the first day of classes to be Aug. 5, but Branch only referred to the “potential reopening of schools in the fall.”

“Our number one priority is to bring students back to a safe environment,” Branch said.

First Steps

At present, the county’s schools remain locked and are available to visitors only by appointment, Branch said.

Those needing to visit with school staff can set up a virtual meeting or an in-person meeting, Branch said, by calling the schools in advance.

The Central Office is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, and schools are open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, he said.

Dallas LeDuff, director of Student Services, told the Board in his report that the system currently is “implementing a number of safety measures such as social distancing and health screening.”

“All visitors to campus are asked to wear masks when approaching any school or main office entrance,” LeDuff said, “but masks are not provided.”

Beginning on June 8, LeDuff said, student athletes will be able to return to campus for conditioning under guidelines provided by Georgia High School Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Financial Report

Saranna Charping, chief financial officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board on Monday that schools systems are required by law to adopt a budget or spending resolution by July 1 each year.

The state has not adopted a budget, she told the Board. The General Assembly suspended its session because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Until we have further budget information, it’s the superintendent’s recommendation that the Board adopt a spending resolution” authorizing the superintendent “to spend funds in the new fiscal year until the school system adopts a budget,” Charping said.

The resolution will be on the agenda for the Monday meeting of the Board.

In the current fiscal year, 55 percent of the revenue for the school system comes from the state.

Operations Report

Brock Toole, chief Operations Officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board that he continues to be in communication with Jody Woodall, director of Public Works for the county, on the ongoing construction of a roundabout at the bus and staff entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

He also said he will be recommending to the Board for action at its Monday meeting that Smith and Company be awarded a contract for relocation of a forced sewer main at that entrance.

The Monroe company was low among four bidders for the project with a $40,016 proposal.

The county and the school system have been at odds over roundabouts at the entrances to Malcom Bridge school for nearly two years.

The county asked the Board of Education to pay to move a forced sewer main that it said would be under the roundabout itself when the road work was completed.

When the request came before the Board in February, Board Member Wayne Bagley raised concerns about the design.

No one commented on Toole’s report on the bid on Monday.


The Monday meeting of the Board of Education was a virtual one and was live streamed via YouTube.

I recorded the meeting as it was being broadcast and have embedded my video below.

Branch made his Superintendent’s Report at 1:03 in the video.

Toole made his operations report at 14:18 in the video.

Charping made her report at 17:45 in the video.

LeDuff gave his report on Student Services at 20:29 in the video.

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