By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
On Tuesday, Aug. 3 Cherokee Central Schools announced that they would be delaying the start of school from Aug. 9 to Aug. 16.
The decision came after an increase in COVID-19 cases on the Qualla Boundary over the last few weeks. EBCI Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) reported 33 new positive cases on July 28, and these were the numbers that CCS leadership considered before choosing to delay. Since then, there was another surge of 52 new cases reported on Aug. 4. Cherokee is currently suffering its largest spike in COVID-19 cases since January.
The decision to delay was not discussed in Monday’s meeting of the CCS Board of Education, but precautions for entering the school year were. CCS will be hosting a vaccination clinic for ages 12 and up on Thursday, Aug. 5 at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center. Superintendent Murray said that the school would be opening with masks required inside of buildings.
A significant piece that has been discussed by the School Board over the last month is the possibility of making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for staff. At the previous meeting, Murray mentioned that it would be best to have an official statement from the school’s attorney before making such a decision. When it was time to discuss this potential policy on Monday, the Board moved into a closed session. No report was offered on the discussion, and no decisions were made on this topic following the opening of the meeting.
The Board said that safety of the students and staff is paramount. The situation surrounding the pandemic will be monitored closely in the coming weeks as CCS looks to open in August.
The first guest to the meeting was Polly Kelley from the EBCI Investment Committee. She was there to offer a quarterly report on the CCS reserve account. She reported that there has been 17.89 percent increase during this fiscal year, which brings the total account to 15,809,350 dollars. This sum is not used as part of the school’s budget, but for emergency use. She said that there was an expectation of a 6-8 percent increase, so these numbers are nearly triple the projections. Kelley also continued by saying that she suspects the market could continue to be volatile with the recent movements of the pandemic. She said that increases in cases and regulations have caused unease in the market, and that patience will be required moving forward.
Next in was Sean Ross, CCS athletic director. He offered a report on the athletic department, particularly focusing on questions he had received regarding uniforms for the different sports at the school. He showed the evaluation cycle for the respective sports, demonstrating that there is generally a three-year window around full team uniform replacement. He did say that this differs sport-by-sport, with some equipment phasing out quicker than others due to high level of use.
Ross also said that all signs point to sports starting on time, with football being the sport questioned by the Board. He said that they are currently planning to operate at a 50 percent capacity for both inside and outside events. That would allow for 1,750 fans in the football stadium, and 1,500 in the gymnasium. He said that given the attendance records, that should be plenty to accommodate the expected crowds.
The Board moved through the consent agenda with a few amendments. Three resolutions were pulled to discuss personnel in closed session, and the other items were passed unanimously.
Three walk-in resolutions were also passed. The first was a small change to a job description for a licensed professional counselor position that is being funded through ARPA money. The other two were adjustments to pay scales for two employees. It was initially missed by Human Resources that these employees had previously worked at the school and needed to be on the longevity pay scale.
The Board also approved the handbooks for the upcoming school year following some debate. The primary issue stemmed from concerns of the dress code. Karen French-Browning said that she wants to see the dress code more strictly enforced for both staff and students.
Superintendent Murray said that the school would be running a trial period with student IDs at the high school to begin the school year. He said that they hope to have these ready by the end of the month, and once they see the effectiveness at the high school, they would consider implementing IDs for the other students as well.
The Monday, Aug. 2 meeting of the CCS Board of Education was called to order at 4:45 p.m. with Chairperson Jennifer Thompson; Vice Chair Isaac Long; Secretary Tara Reed-Cooper; Board members Regina Ledford Rosario and Karen French-Browning; Superintendent Dr. Michael Murray; Asst. Superintendent Dr. Beverly Payne; HR Director Heather Driver; and School Board Assistant Terri Bradley all in attendance. Board member Gloria Griffin and Tribal Council Representative Chelsea Saunooke were late to the meeting.
The next meeting of the School Board will take place on Monday, Aug. 16 at 4:45 p.m. Meetings are once again being held in the conference room in the CCS Administrative building. Board of Education meetings are considered public meetings and are open to public attendance except for executive sessions.