School system asks community to ‘help us help our students and staff’

Pulaski County Public Schools has announced that there will be a temporary, short-term return to asynchronous remote learning for the entire school system. The remote learning is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 13, and Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. Teachers will be available to assist students from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

Employees with 11 and 12-month contracts will report to work for their normal schedules. All others will report from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at their respective work locations.

The decision for remote learning was made after a rapidly increasing number of students, staff and faculty tested positive for COVID-19, causing shortages in staffing.

“We’ve been watching the numbers like everyone else and hoping that it would slow down, but unfortunately, it hasn’t,” said Dr. Kevin Siers, Superintendent of Pulaski County Public Schools. “Our main mission is to educate our students but we also have the responsibility of protecting them along with our staff and faculty. The newest surge has proven to be an incredibly difficult issue for school divisions to navigate.”

“As a point of reference, we have already had more faculty, staff, and students out this month for COVID than we’ve had in any full month since the pandemic began,” Dr. Siers said. “We need all of the help we can get to keep folks healthy and in the classroom instead of in front of a computer screen at home.”

So how can people help?

“Increasing vaccination rates is a huge first step but it isn’t a 100% fix,” Siers said. “Recent data suggest that being vaccinated increases the chance that your symptoms will be mild but there are still a record number of breakthrough cases occurring in our community and many vaccinated individuals are getting sick. I can personally attest to this as I’m fully vaccinated, but was out last week after testing positive and experienced symptoms that were severe enough to require an antibodies infusion. It was an incredibly awful experience that I hope others can avoid.”

Other ways to help with the fight will be very familiar to most people. Wearing a mask plus social distancing has been proven to work better than wearing a mask alone. Limiting large public gatherings in your personal lives and hand washing remain important as well.

“We’re asking our employees to keep this all in mind when working in the schools over the next few days,” Siers said. “Always wear your mask when in a room with others and keep as much space as possible between your coworkers and yourself. Practice all of the normal mitigation strategies we’ve gotten used to since this began. We want to make sure we get our students back into the classroom and keep them there, but we also have to consider the health ramifications for them and the entire community. We can get through this if everyone is working together and doing the right things to make it happen.”

The current plan is for students to return to in-person learning Tuesday, Jan. 18. The school system will evaluate information as it becomes available before that to make a decision on any possible further virtual days.

“We really appreciate all that faculty, staff, and parents have done to this point under these incredibly difficult circumstances,” Siers said. “We’re asking that everyone continue to do as much as possible to help us get things under control for the benefit of our community.”

By David Gravely, Pulaski County Public Schools