Blytheville discusses safety of players, fans

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

During its three-hour meeting Monday night, the Blytheville School Board discussed a variety of issues, including safety and sports during the pandemic.

Board members peppered Blytheville High School athletic director Donald Davis with questions on how the district plans to ensure the safety of student-athletes and fans.

Along with following the guidelines set by the Arkansas Activities Association, Blytheville will limit the number of visiting fans to 200 at football games, sending out 200 vouchers to the opposing school. Davis said Blytheville will allow 400 home fans on a first-come-first-served basis, and they will utilize every other row of bleachers. Also, Davis noted the concession stand will sell only prepackaged food during the first home game — Sept. 4 versus Osceola — and evaluate game by game after that.

He said when the Chicks travel for football games, as they will Friday night when they open the season at Nettleton, the cheerleaders and band will not go to the away games. The opposing teams’ cheerleaders and bands will not make the trip to Haley Field either this season.

Board member Desmond Hammett asked how many positive Covid-19 tests would require the district to shutdown a sports season. Davis responded that no number has been established, though noting he is staying in touch with other athletic directors and schools to ensure the safety of the students and fans.

Meanwhile, school leaders reported having a good first day of school on Monday. Curriculum director Sally Cooke said the day went smoothly, with students abiding by the social distancing guidelines, including wearing their masks.

There were a lot fewer students on the Blytheville campuses Monday than the typical first day of school.

Of the 1,779 students enrolled in the district, 903 have chosen the virtual option. On Friday, Blytheville superintendent Bobby Ashley also announced after meeting with state leaders, because of the high number of active cases in the school district boundary, there would be a slow opening for the first week, with boys in particular grades coming one day and girls in particular grades going other days. Director of facilities Brandon Harper reported on the safety measures the district has taken to keep the buildings sanitized and safe.

In other news, Danielle Dodd of Baldwin and Shell told the board the track should be completed next week and has only a couple of minor issues to address before it is done.

She encouraged board members to check out the track. Security at the track was discussed as well.

Also Monday night, the board discussed potentially setting a timeframe for teachers to become licensed.

Cooke noted the state recommends teachers be certified within three years of being hired and she would support a policy with that requirement. However, she suggested the board consider allowing principals the leeway to allow a fourth year if circumstances arise preventing the teacher from being certified within that timeframe.

The school board plans to hold a special meeting on policies and is expected to discuss setting a timeframe for certification at that time.

“We are in much better shape than we have been in the past,” Cooke said of having certified teachers.

Meanwhile, the board discussed at length renaming the Effie Lee Taylor awards assembly.

Board member Tobey Johnson motioned to change the name to the Jan Sinclair Awards Assembly, after Sinclair recently donated more than $200,000 to the district for scholarships and many do not remember Taylor.

Johnson later withdrew the motion after the discussion.

Hammett suggested naming the awards assembly in honor of the late Gene Henton, though did not make a motion. He noted the district could name a podium in honor of Sinclair.

Ashley had concerns that there would be the same conversation in 30 years when, like Taylor’s accomplishments today, future school leaders may not know Sinclair’s contributions to the district and choose to rename the awards assembly. Board member Carlony Lewis motioned to change the name to the Blytheville High School Scholarship and Awards Assembly, though the motion failed after a split 4-4 vote. Voting in favor of the change were Lewis, Hammett, Barbara Wells and Michelle Sims. Casting dissenting votes were Erin Carrington, Billy Fair, Johnson and Tracy Ritchey.

In other news, the board approved:

- Renewal of the Air Evac agreement;

- Statement of assurance on standards and federal programs;

- Licensed personnel emergency leave and student absentee policy regarding Covid-19. The vote on the student absentee policy was 6-2 with Wells and Lewis voting no;

- The purchase of dividers from Teach Cleanly, with a 7-1 vote. Fair cast the dissenting vote;

- Personnel recommendations.