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Spread of COVID-19 is rampant in Henry County Schools

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At the Henry County School Board’s first regular meeting of the year Thursday, the board learned that a surge in COVID-19 cases is causing concern within the school system.

“Before the [winter] break it was going down, but the spreading is rampant right now,” said Superintendent Sandy Strayer. “Our rates are very high.”

Communications Director Monica Hatchett told the board that the rates of contracting COVID in Henry County schools “right now are pretty scary,” and Strayer added that although the virus was spreading more rapidly, “the symptoms are mild.”

Sovah Health—Martinsville Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sheranda Gunn-Nolan said in an unrelated press conference Friday afternoon that the majority of cases the hospital is seeing now are a result of the omicron variant that “appears to be more contagious than others, but with symptoms that are often less severe.”

Hatchett told the Bulletin on Friday that before the winter break, for the week of Dec. 10, Henry County Schools had one staff member and 14 students with COVID. Fridays report showed 53 staff members and 158 students most recently had tested positive for the virus.

The surge in Henry County schools mirrors that of the region and across the country, with infections at an all-time high.

If there is any consolation, Case Western Reserve University scientists have released preliminary evidence showing that the a person who contracts the omicron variant version of COVID had about half the risk of being admitted to the hospital or intensive care than with the delta variant.

In other matters, the Board:

  • Re-elected Tom Auker as chair and elected Teddy Martin II as vice chair, replacing Francis Zehr.
  • Appointed Assistant Superintendent for Operations and Administrative Services David Scott as the designee to attend meetings of the board in the event Strayer is absent.
  • Adopted the Code of Conduct for School Board Members for 2022.
  • Chose to continue regular monthly meetings on the first Thursday of each month beginning at 9 a.m. for day meetings and 6 p.m. for evening meetings in the Summerlin Room of the County Administration Building. The July meeting was scheduled for the second Thursday because of the Independence Day holiday.
  • Acknowledged Governor Ralph Northam’s recognition of Jan. 8-14 as Virginia school principal appreciation week in Virginia.
  • Heard an update from Scott on the budget.
  • Approved members of the Special Education Advisory Committee for the 21-22 school year. They include: Ashley Bagwell, co-president; Veronica Favero, co-president; Angela McKissick, vice president; Zena Smith, secretary; Emily Roop, school board liaison; Jeannette Hurd, school board liaison; Amy Stintson; Laura Frazier; Jerry Byrd; Sharon Mullen; Pam Cobler.
  • Approved the 22-23 school calendar year that includes built-in teacher workdays and professional development days, early dismissal for students and workday afternoons before holiday breaks and keeping the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as a full day student-teacher holiday.
  • Approved the high school program of studies for the 22-23 school year. The list included no major adjustments to the programs and courses currently offered.
  • Approved an intranet contract with GCR Telecommunications, Inc. for $244,923 with $220,430 paid through federal funding and the remainder through a technology state reimbursement grant.
  • Approved a contract for internet services with GCR Telecommunications, Inc. for $56,400 with $50,760 paid through federal funding and the remainder through a technology state reimbursement grant.
  • Approved a school bus driver incentive grant program funded with state money. Henry County Public Schools is eligible for $50,000 of reimbursable funds from the Governor’s emergency education relief fund.
  • Approved an additional appropriation of $294,248 to the school nutrition budget for USDA emergency operation costs.
  • Approved a $42,450 grant with the American rescue plan for elementary and secondary schools emergency relief fund for homeless children and youth.

On the calendar:

  • Jan. 17: Martin Luther King Jr., school holiday.
  • Jan. 20: Public hearing to receive input on FY23 school budget priorities and a budget work session at 6 p.m. in the Summerlin Room at the Henry County Administration Building.
  • Feb. 1: Statement of Economic Interests filing deadline.
  • Feb. 3: Monthly meeting, 9 a.m. Summerlin Room, Henry County Administration Building.

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 2360. Follow him @billdwyatt.

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