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Sullivan County Board of Education to discuss stipends, mask mandate

Sullivan County Board of Education to discuss stipends, mask mandate

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Employees of Sullivan County Schools could receive a one-time stipend for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on how the Board of Education votes at its monthly meeting tonight.

Director of Schools David Cox proposed the stipend at the school board’s work session Thursday evening.

If approved tonight, the plan would give $1,000 to each school system employee who worked throughout the current school year and $500 to those who began working full-time after Jan. 1 or worked less than four hours a day throughout the year. Part-time staff members who started after Jan. 1 would get a $250 bonus, Cox said.

“This would be intended for employees’ last check for the end of the school year,” he told the board. “Several school systems around the state and particularly in our area are doing something very similar to this.”

Cox said the roughly $991,000 needed to give those bonuses would come from the second round of CARES Act funds Sullivan County Schools received. Although some of that money had already been dedicated to other projects, he said, the flexibility of the federal funds would let the school system move those projects to a pending third round of CARES money.

“We have, at this point, three different CARES funding pots. We have been approved for [rounds] one and two,” Cox said. “We can amend those at any time like other federal grants. The intent is that we would move those projects to [the third round of funding].”

“This gets the money to the teachers and other staff members quicker,” Jones said.

The school board will also decide whether to keep its own mask requirement in place through the end of the school year.

Last Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee ended most county mayors’ authority to require masks and impose other COVID-19 safety restrictions. Although Sullivan County is one of six counties that have independent health departments and didn’t have to comply with that order, Mayor Richard Venable and county health department officials let Sullivan County’s mask mandate expire Friday.

Cox said that after some confusion about how school systems fit into those changes, Lee’s office said that his order did not apply to school districts, giving them the authority to make their own decisions. The director of schools sounded less than enthused about that authority.

“We are placed in a very bad position, so I want you to have the information that you need to make the very best decision,” Cox said.

He recommended keeping Sullivan County Schools’ mask requirement in place for the remaining three weeks of the school year due to the high rate of COVID-19 transmission in Sullivan County—the highest in the state as of Thursday, he said—and the fact that children under age 16 aren’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccines yet.

But school board members appeared to be split over the question, as evidenced by their own behavior at the meeting: Board members Matthew Spivey and Paul Robinson, along with Cox, all wore masks. Board Chairman Randall Jones and members Michael Hughes, Mary Rouse, Randall Gilmore and Mark Ireson did not, along with Pat Hull, the board’s attorney.

swade@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2511 | Twitter: @swadely

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