By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) Board of Education has voted 5-1 to reopen its schools to students starting Jan. 5, 2021.
The Board met on Monday, Dec. 7 to discuss a plan for reentry. After a lengthy discussion, a motion to open the school using ‘Plan B’ was voted upon. This means the school will operated on a hybrid schedule, with students being split into two groups and will attend school two days a week. The other three will be used for remote learning. Under this plan parents and guardians will have the option of remaining fully remote.
Big Cove Rep Karen French-Browning was the only Board member to vote against.
“I saw that the numbers went up again today. The holidays are coming. To bring them back in January, I just don’t think that’s the right thing to do. All the people I have talked with and have talked to me do not want to do that. They said they’ve been having a rough time but that their kids are learning. It’s not what they want, it’s not what I want either,” said French-Browning. “But you don’t really understand how this virus is until it hits close to home. And for the first time since this virus has been out there, it has come to my family.”
French-Browning has consistently been opposed to opening the schools for the majority of the COVID-19 pandemic. She has cited safety for the kids and teachers as the upmost importance, saying that she understood the difficulties of at-home learning, but that health of the community was more important.
French-Browning was also extremely concerned by the spike in COVID-19 numbers following the Thanksgiving holiday and pointed to the idea that a bigger spike could be coming for Christmas. With Christmas landing just 11 days before the planned start for school, a spike would land right around the start of the semester.
An aspect that was presented as a reason for opening was to ensure the retention of students at CCS. Chairperson and Yellowhill Rep. Jennifer Thompson said that CCS had lost multiple students to other school systems because of the extended closure.
“I know that we’ve lost several kids to other schools because we’re not in school. We’ve lost 33 or 34 since August. We’ve also worked very hard to get these children back to Cherokee,” said Thompson.
Big Y Rep. Tara Reed-Cooper was one of the five votes for reopening and has been heavily motivated to bring back school for some time.
“I see both sides. I see what Karen’s saying, I see what everyone here is saying. But at the same time, we’re going to continue to lose kids if we don’t’ come back regular time in January. I’ve had at least five parents call me, and they have multiple children,” said Reed-Cooper.
“The cases are going to rise, whether it’s the first or whether it’s the eighteenth. We could get to the eighteenth or the seventeenth and it snow for two weeks and us not come back for another two weeks, that’s a whole ‘nother two weeks. We might get back on the fifth and us talk about it and there might be 21 more cases, because we’re going to expect that. The cases are going to rise regardless of where they’re at. You can get it going to the grocery store, you can get it going to the skate park, you can get it when you go to Tennessee and play basketball. You can get it going to your Grandma’s house. You can get it going to your mom and dad’s house. For me, the sooner we get them back in the better.”
Another issue that French-Browning brought to the Board was the idea that sports had begun for CCS. Cherokee has hosted multiple events, including volleyball and cross country, despite the school still operating remotely.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘our kids, they’re not coming to school and we understand that, but yet you’re letting the athletics go on. Why should we have athletics when you can’t even let the kids come to school?’ And I didn’t know how to answer that,” said French-Browning while repeating that she felt it was unwise to bring kids back to school in January.
The Board asked what Superintendent Michael Murray had heard from the neighboring schools that have been open since the fall.
“When I’ve talked to the different superintendents, they’ve had outbreaks just like we’ve had and they’ve had to mitigate those and isolate those. But they’ve been able to carry on school. I mean, they’re having school. Is it what it should be? No. They don’t have near the numbers. But it’s given groups of parents that don’t have a choice, a choice. And I think that’s where they’re meeting the needs that Cherokee Central’s not meeting right now,” said Murray.
The Board did agree that it would be good to come up with a decision as soon as possible for the teachers attempting to prepare for another unorthodox semester. This led to the motion to approve starting school under ‘Plan B’ starting on Jan. 5.
The Board said that they will need to closely evaluate the situation over the next month and could reverse their decision as necessary. That exact thing happened at the start of the school year when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal government decided to shut down just days after CCS voted to open school.
It was also decided that it was important to offer families the opportunity to stay with remote learning if they were not yet comfortable coming back to school.
The Board quickly handled their other business before and after the reopening discussion.
The consent agenda passed with no amendments, setting forth the following:
- Darren Buchanan is approved to upgrade to a full-time custodian position for Cherokee Central School.
- Johnathan Lambert is approved to fill a full-time custodian position for Cherokee Central School.
- Nellie “Ahlisha” Stephens be approved as the Varsity Cross Country Head Coach for the 2020/2021 season.
- Taylor Brooks be approved as the Middle School Cross Country Head Coach for the 2020/2021 season.
The Monday, Dec. 7 meeting of the CCS Board of Education was called to order at 4:45 p.m. with Chairperson Jennifer Thompson; Vice Chair Ike Long; Secretary Tara Reed-Cooper; Board members Gloria Griffin, Karen French-Browning, and Regina Ledford Rosario; School Board Assistant Sunnie Clapsaddle; HR Director Heather Driver; Superintendent Michael Murray; Assistant Superintendent Beverly Payne; and Wolftown Tribal Council representative Chelsea Saunooke present.
The Board agreed not to meet in-person for their second meeting of December unless a significant issue arises that requires discussion. They will hold that meeting via email poll.