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The Giles County Board of Education approved a $12.7 million school renovation plan Thursday focusing on improving indoor air quality at the county’s schools.

Representatives from architecture and engineering firm Wold HFR reviewed details of the proposal with the board, clarifying the line item costs to bring the county’s oldest schools up to code. Focusing first on Giles County High School, Bridgeforth Middle School and Pulaski Elementary School will impact 41 percent of Giles County students. This portion of the overall renovation project proposed by Wold HFR will entail updating HVAC systems to allow for outside air to circulate in the buildings in accordance with building codes, replacing windows and other mechanical system upgrades.

In addition, every school in the district will have UV air purifiers installed in the HVAC ducts. It is the board’s hope that focusing on indoor air quality will help improve the health of the students and staff.

Board Member Mary McCloud spoke from her perspective as a health professional saying these measures could help prevent not only the spread of future strains of COVID, but the flu and strep that are so common in schools.

The Giles County Commission had previously allocated more than $6 million to fund the renovations. The School Board approved using another $2 million from its fund balance to go toward the total cost. It is the hope of the board that the county commission will be able to find funding for the balance of the project.

In their comments, board members stressed that these repairs were long overdue and needed.

“We’ve known this is necessary,” board member Jim Stewart said. “It was necessary 25 years ago when I graduated high school.”

He continued, “I implore the county commission to look beyond the cost to see the benefits.”

Board member Richie Brewer added his plea to the county commission: “You have to look at it as a need,” especially given the ongoing threat of the Coronavirus pandemic. “If we lose one student because we weren’t vigilant... The life of someone doesn’t have a price tag.”

In other business, the board approved:

• The distribution of pocket Constitutions to the district’s eighth graders, courtesy of the non-profit 917 Society.

• Agreements for photocopier maintenance at Giles County High School and an upgraded bandwidth internet plan with reduced cost VoIP services.

• Disposition of assets as proposed by Amy McGowan, Carmen Hayes and Dr. Courtney Woods, including out of date desks, textbooks and cafeteria supplies.

• A field trip for the Giles County High School FFA club to attend their National Convention and Expo.

Changes to the following policies were approved on first reading:

• 3.404 Private Vehicles — updated to state that individuals using private vehicles for school events must be licensed drivers.

• 6.312 Use of Personal Communication Devices and Electronic Devices — out-of-date wording modified to reflect current cell phone culture. Since all students have school-issued electronic devices, cell phones are no longer needed for research at school. The board agreed to wording that prohibits cell phone camera usage on school property during regular school hours. Additionally, Dr. Beard requested that cell phone forfeiture be removed as a consequence.

• 5.613 Employee Use of Social Media and Personal Websites — Dr. Beard suggested striking this policy altogether since it is not in the TSBA model policy and most of the requirements are covered in the policies for employee ethics and staff-student relationships (policies 5.612 and 5.611). Additionally teachers are required to sign a Teacher Code of Ethics which covers social media use.

Changes to policies 6.200 Attendance, 6.204 Attendance of Non-Resident Students and 4.206 Homebound Instruction were approved as a slate on second reading.

The board also voted to edit the minutes from the July 8 board meeting. The change clarified the details of the bus driver sign-on bonus plan ($500 upon receiving their permit, and an additional $500 after a 90-day probation period as a full-time driver.)

Beard asked the board to approve a slight change to the allocation they had approved on those minutes for a one-year contract for the CASE assessment and MasteryConnect benchmark assessment program. The parent company for these assessments had been sold, so the contract needed to be re-bid and will be piggybacked on the Kingsport City Schools contract.

Beard took a moment in the meeting to recognize the school bus drivers and transportation staff for their excellence despite being short-staffed. “They are taking care of our children, making sure they get to school and home safely,” praised Beard.

The next board work session will be Thursday, Sept. 23, with a special called session to immediately follow to discuss health insurance premiums in advance of open enrollment, which begins Oct. 1. The next board meeting will be Thursday, Oct. 14. Meetings are at 5 p.m. at the Central Office.

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