Superintendent Mike Hickman speaks at a protest against the Reporter. (Photo/Don Daniel)

Monroe County’s school board voted 4-3 to postpone in-person instruction for the high and middle school due to COVID, but elementary schools will open for in-person classes on Aug. 17.

Board members Nolen Howard, JP Evans, Judy Pettigrew and Priscilla Doster voted for on-line only instruction for grades 6-12, while Greg Head, Stuart Pippin and Eva Bilderback voted against the recommendation from superintendent Mike Hickman.

Hickman said the delay was needed because 23 employees have had to be quarantined and people in Monroe County continue to get COVID-19. Hickman said during the summer the entire custodial staff at one school had to be shutdown.

Hickman said he didn’t want to start in-person instruction and then have to stop it when people tested positive. 

“It would be demoralizing to open and then close,” said Hickman.

But Pippin said that they already postponed the start of school from Aug. 4 to Aug. 17 so that cases could come down, and they have, down 18 percent. 

Pippin also said parents are going to be puzzled that sports activities can continue but not classroom instruction. 

“It looks bad to parents that we can have a football game but not go to school,” said Pippin.

And he cited concerns about suicide and domestic problems in homes that are not being reported with kids stuck at home.

And Head noted that only 1 percent of the county’s population has had the virus, and that the school system needs to provide the service that it’s paid to offer. He noted that parents know the risks involved and everyone who called him wants schools to open. Those unwilling to take the risk are among the 1,000 students signed up for on-line school.

But Doster said she just doesn’t think it’s safe. And Howard noted it’s not just the students but the staff they have to worry about.

“They’re not here by choice,” said Howard.

Pippin responded he’s concerned about the perception of another delay. If banks, stores and restaurants are open, said Pippin, how essential do schools look if they stay closed.

Doster motioned to accept Hickman’s recommendation with the caveat that administrators check the county’s COVID stats every week rather than every two weeks. All board members were there except Evans who tuned in via internet.

Hickman said he’s OK with elementary schools opening Aug. 17 because they do not change classes.