By JONAH LOSSIAH
One Feather Staff
In their meeting Tuesday night (Sept. 7), members of the Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) Board of Education made it clear that they would be doing everything possible to stay open amid raising numbers of COVID-19 on the Qualla Boundary.
Cherokee has recently seen its second biggest spike of positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with 183 confirmed positive cases over the last two weeks. Several board members said that they had been contacted by parents or other people in the community worried about closure of the school.
“You’re serving 1,407 kids. Since last Aug. 15 (2020), we’ve had 17 positives in students out of that whole population. Right now, we have five in elementary, one in middle, one in high school. So, you have seven right now. That’s minimized on direct. You can’t minimize a group more than you’re doing. And every bit of that speaks to the efforts you’ve made trying to keep people safe,” said Superintendent Michael Murray.
Murray continued by saying that CCS is following all the safety guidelines provided, and that there are still changes being made to protocols nationwide. He said that one of these protocols is quarantine and testing requirements.
He said that the school’s current policy is that in order to return to school after isolating, the student or teacher must be test at least five days after exposure. If they then receive a negative test and aren’t showing symptoms, they may return.
Another shift that is coming will be the food delivery service that CCS has been performing. Superintendent Murray said that the current structure isn’t sustainable.
“We’re the only system that I know of that has continued to provide lunch out in the community for…the ones that are picking remote now. I’m going to tell you; it’s created a terrible hardship for us. I sent Terri [Bradley] out today. Being one of the only ones, I would rather us just set it up to where people could drop by and get their food and we do it a safe way. Because I’m having a hard time manning it. Terri was gone four hours today,” said Murray.
After a brief discussion, the Board voted to amend the food policy to allow remote families to come pick up food, ending the food delivery service.
Among other announcements, Murray reported that the graduation rate for the 2021 class at Cherokee High School was 87 percent, which was greeted with a round of applause from the Board.
The School Board then passed all the items on the consent agenda, as well as one walk-in resolution. This approved four individuals for positions at the school. There was no contest to any of these items.
The Board also addressed vacation time during the first week of October, time that is usually set aside for the Cherokee Indian Fair. In 2020, CCS still offered the time off to staff and students despite the Fair being canceled. The Board is holding to that decision this year, stating that staff have already planned to take time off during that week.
They did slightly amend the days, however. Teachers and staff will now have an optional workday on Oct. 5 and 6, a half day on Oct. 7, and time off on Oct. 8. This move was made to connect the days off with the weekend.
Before the Board moved to a closed session, the Cherokee One Feather requested a statement regarding the Secretarial Order 3402 delivered by Deb Haaland, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The order requires that all educators of BIE-operated schools ‘shall receive a COVID-19 vaccine no later than October 15, 2021’.
Superintendent Murray and the Board said that they would offer a statement once they had time to review the order.
The Board then moved into a closed session to finish the meeting. No further decisions were made.
The Tuesday, Sept. 7 meeting of the CCS Board of Education was called to order at 4:45 p.m. with Vice Chair Isaac Long; Secretary Tara Reed-Cooper; Board members Gloria Griffin, Karen French-Browning, and Regina Ledford Rosario; Superintendent Dr. Michael Murray; HR Director Heather Driver; Wolftown Tribal Council Representative Chelsea Saunooke; and School Board Assistant Terri Bradley all in attendance. Chairperson Jennifer Thompson was a few minutes late to the meeting. Asst. Superintendent Dr. Beverly Payne was absent from the meeting.
The next meeting of the School Board is scheduled to take place on Monday, Sept. 20 at 4:45 p.m. Meetings are being held in the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center at CCS. Board of Education meetings are considered public meetings and are open to public attendance except for executive sessions.