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Nashville school to continue with mask mandate

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By John R. Schirmer

News-Leader staff

The Nashville School District’s mask mandate will continue until further notice following Monday night’s meeting of the school board.

Members voted 5-0 to accept Superintendent Doug Graham’s recommendation that the mandate continue. Graham cited statistics from other districts showing that schools which require masks generally have lower numbers of students contracting Covid-19 or being quarantined for close contacts.

Students, faculty and staff must wear masks at all times inside district buildings.

The mask requirement was approved in August and has been in effect since the first day of school Aug. 16. “We said last month that we would revisit it,” Graham said.

Since then, Graham and district point of contact Rick Rebsamen have kept a close watch on positive cases and close contacts and have followed virus numbers in other districts.

As of Monday, Sept. 20, there were nine student positives and 11 student contacts in the district, Graham said. There was one teacher positive, along with two teacher close contacts.

“Student positives and close contacts are down 11 from last week,” according to Graham. 

However, the district has reported “more cases the first month than all of last year,” with most of the increase attributed to the highly transmissible delta variant, Graham said.

Graham told of several schools similar in size to Nashville where as many as 450 students were out of school on a given day. Those districts did not have mask requirements, he said. 

Some implemented the mandates after seeing how many students and staff had developed the virus or were close contacts.

Graham also showed a map from the Arkansas Community Health Initiative which shows the percentage of school district residents who contracted Covid-19. “The map shows the number of positives in the districts, not the number of students,” he said.

Like many districts, Nashville 

is in the red, with purple being the highest level of infection among district residents as a whole. 

“In comparison between the numbers within the district and the numbers in our school, we have to think that something is working,” Graham said. “We had 1 percent out today with positive cases and quarantines. Our numbers are really good.”

The district has installed iWave electronic devices in the HVAC systems in all classrooms on every campus. The iWaves purify the air and kill a number of airborne infections. 

Installation began in August at primary and elementary school when new HVAC units were put in place.

Junior high and high school have newer air conditioning units than the other schools and received their iWaves after the work was done at primary and elementary.

“Masks, iWaves, social distancing are what’s making our numbers as low as they are,” Graham said. “Our area is not doing well, but our school is doing better.”

Graham said he visited primary school Monday and saw that “all of the teachers and kids had their masks on. It’s not a big deal to them. Everybody is kind of in a routine.”

After discussing the local virus numbers and those in other districts, Graham made his recommendation to continue requiring masks until further notice. “I don’t want to change the recipe at this point. With everything going on, my recommendation is not to change what’s working. We keep more kids in school with masks.”

Board member Tem Gunter made the motion to continue the mask mandate. His motion passed 5-0.

Other business

Board members considered a number of other items and heard the district’s annual report to the public in a session lasting more than two hours.

Building principals and other administrators presented the report to the public, which is required by state law. Details of the report will be included in the Sept. 29 News-Leader.

Graham reported that the district’s operating balance was $3,946,432 at the end of August. 

Board members accepted Graham’s recommendation to purchase three new instruments for the band program. “It’s beyond time for students to share instruments” with Covid-19 concerns continuing, he said.

The board accepted a bid from Cooper Band Instrument Repair of Russellville for two King tubas with cases and a used Selmer model 67 B-flat bass clarinet. Total cost for the three instruments is $21,416.32.

Board members approved a bid from Fresh Coat Painting Services of Nashville to paint Whiteside Gym. Total labor and material costs were listed at $17,460. However, repair work, including replacing boards in the walls of the facility, likely will increase the cost, Graham said.

“We tried to get a grant for this and were denied. It’s time to get paint on the outside. We need to power wash Whiteside and paint it. We may come across damage when we start power washing and sanding. We’ll try to do this with minimum replacements, but we’ll have to re-do some areas.”

Graham said Whiteside is used almost daily by the school and the Nashville City Park.

The gym was named for Nashville native John Garrett Whiteside, who worked in Washington, D.C., and typed the declarations of war in both World War I and World War II. Whiteside is featured in an exhibit at the Howard County Museum in Nashville.

“This community loves Whiteside Gym,” Graham said.

In his monthly report, Graham said it is “still on my radar to see additional seating at the softball field and build a press box. The mayor and Park Commission will look at it. We’re also looking at additional tennis courts. I think we can write a grant and get part of it covered.”

The downside of the grant process is that “we would be a year away from construction,” Graham said.

On another topic, Graham said it is “time we as a school move forward to put in a Scrapper Hall of Fame. This could be for athletics or school in general. We’re one of the few schools with as much tradition as we have without a Hall of Fame.”

One possibility for locating the hall would be to purchase one of the empty buildings on Main Street and use it, Graham said.

Following a 28-minute executive session, the board accepted resignations from ESL aide Linnie Calderon and elementary custodian Symone Walton.

Charles Gamble was hired for the custodian position.

Because of increased student numbers, junior high teacher Virgil Hellums and high school teacher Scott Horne will teach classes during their conference periods. Hellums will have a physical science class, and Horne will teach college chemistry.

Both will receive an additional .25 pay index on their current contracts.

The board voted to increase Ashley Hale’s pay to $21.73 per hour. She will taken on additional secretarial duties with federal money for the food services department.

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