Jett updates school board on COVID response

Fort Payne Superintendent Brian Jett on Thursday updated the school board on COVID-related absenteeism since the system converted from a masking requirement to personal preference. He said the 52 absences that day was up from earlier in the month, but he still feels good about the numbers “and I hope and pray it gets better.”

Following an August 6 emergency meeting, the city schools required masking at the start of the school year on August 9. This policy was extended a couple of times, but recently ended, citing reduced numbers of new cases among students and staff.

Jett said students continue to eat breakfast and lunch in classrooms, but they hope to transition back to the school cafeterias after Veteran’s Day and attempted to have Friday’s pep rally inside the gymnasium at Fort Payne High School with limited capacity.

“We want to go back to normal and let this year’s seniors have the normal senior experience, allow the parents to show up and have as much normalcy as possible,” Jett said. “We feel good about the direction we are going. The biggest thing is, if you feel sick, stay at home and let us know what is going on. That’s how we deter most of this.”

Jett said school systems are even looking into pursuing an end to the federal requirement of masking on school buses.

The board listened to a presentation from the University of Alabama at Birmingham regarding a proposal to test for asymptomatic cases of COVID-19. Jett said this testing would involve supervised outside nursing staff testing weekly to minimize disruptions. Anyone would be able to opt-in or out at any time and no information specifically identifying an individual person would be shared with a third-party. The board has until Nov. 18 to decide whether to participate. Jett said he would solicit feedback from other superintendents whose school districts have already participated.

Jett said school employees will be able to get COVID vaccine booster shots at the DeKalb County Health Department on Friday, Nov. 12 following the school board approving his request for a system-wide virtual day option. This will give anyone who gets the shot an opportunity to rest at home if they experience any of the side effects sometimes associated with the vaccines such as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever or nausea; these are normal signs that the human body is building protective antibodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The vaccines continue to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death, but the booster shots are recommended by public health experts who see reduced protection over time, especially among certain populations, against mild and moderate disease.

“That is nothing we are mandating,” Jett clarified. “It’s their decision if they want to do that.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11 years of age, and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has not yet made a recommendation on vaccinating this age group. The CDC recommends everyone 12 years and older should get vaccinated to help stop the pandemic.

During the virtual day, students in pre-K through grade 12 will have an assignment issued on Wednesday evening. School is out that Thursday for the Veteran’s Day holiday. Non-certified staff such as bus drivers, custodians and child nutrition workers will have a virtual diversity training on Title IX (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender in programs receiving Federal funds) and will not be asked to make up those hours.

In other business, Jett said a meeting is planned on Tuesday, Nov. 2 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. It concerns the new BEAT (Building, Electric, Aviation Technology) Center, which broke ground last month. Jett said the timeframe for completion has been delayed a bit due to revising plans to fortify the structure to make it storm-rated to offer protection from tornadoes for up to 1,300 individuals at FPHS. Jett said exterior work at Little Ridge Intermediate School is nearing a conclusion with playground construction and landscaping nearly finished.

The school board also approved a long list of personnel changes that will be detailed in a story in Wednesday’s edition.

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