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Bryan County seniors to have two grad ceremonies
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Bryan County High School teachers recently posted 129 signs out front, one for each member of the Class of 2020.” It was great to see students stopping and taking their picture with their sign,” said BCHS Assistant Principal Dr. Marcy Smith, who thanked Coca-Cola for donating the signs. Photo provided.

High school seniors in Bryan County will have a graduation ceremony in 2020.

They’ll have two, actually.

Details were somewhat sketchy at last week’s school board meeting, but the first will involve cars and is tentatively set for the weekend of graduation, which is May 16, Bryan County Schools superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher told school board members.

“After a lot of discussions with principals and senior class leaders, Richmond Hill High School and Bryan County High School will be doing the exact same thing,” Brooksher told board members, noting the logistics are still being worked out as “to how the cars line up and where they line up, but it’ll be a drive through parade-type graduation for the senior class.”

Emails will be sent to parents as details are finalized, he said. There are more than 450 seniors expected to graduate from RHHS, while BCHS has approximately 130.

Other school systems in the area are putting together similar events for their seniors, then having more formal ceremonies later. In Bryan County’s case, the system has reserved the Savannah Civic Center for July 25 and July 26 for the two school graduations and it will be optional for students to attend.

Schools have been closed since the end of March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though students have been doing schoolwork through what Brooksher called a “digital environment.”

But while classes have gone online for students and teachers, and while most other local government bodies have conducted meetings online, the school board has continued to hold its monthly meetings in person. The most recent was held April 23 in Black Creek, with board members spread around a table while Brooksher and assistant superintendents Dr. Trey Robertson, Jason Rogers and Melanie James gave updates.

The decision to hold the meetings was a unanimous decision, Board of Education Chairwoman Amy Murphy said in an email.

“Prior to the April 23rd meeting, I spoke with each individual board member regarding the best way to conduct our meeting. We are all aware of the CDC guidelines, including social distancing and self-isolating if not feeling well. Currently, individual board members are all lucky enough to be working under COVID-19 amended work conditions. Thus because we are familiar with and already practicing social distancing and additional CDC guidelines, each member made the decision to attend the meeting in person. Board members were offered the option of calling into the meeting if they felt unwell or uncomfortable with being physically present. As our board meeting room is very large, we assembled in a non-traditional meeting format, allowing Board members to easily have a minimum of 6 feet between all individuals. Additionally, the meeting room was cleaned and sanitized prior to our arrival.”

Murphy went on to say board members also took into account the health of employees by limiting the number of staff members attending the meeting.

“Furthermore, we considered the safety and well being of our employees and community. Traditionally numerous Bryan County Schools employees attend our monthly meetings to provide support and information as needed. For the April meeting, only “bare bones” staff members were in attendance to provide the crucial information that falls under their purview.”

As for attendance by the public, Murphy said accommodations were made should someone decide to attend.

“Finally, under “normal” circumstances we welcome and appreciate community attendance at our meetings. However, we typically only have a large number of community attendees at our meetings when we are celebrating achievements or milestones in the lives of our students or employees. Because those recognitions have been suspended until we can safely gather in larger numbers, the room was set up to practice social distancing for several potential attendees. Accommodations had also been prepared for a larger number of community members to observe the meeting (under social distancing guidelines) at other locations in the building, if needed.”

In other business:

 - The school board voted to allow Brooksher and administrators to “develop and administrative regulation with procedures to name” valedictorian and salutatorian at BCHS and RHHS.

- Brooksher said the system does not expect to have to furlough staff due to budget concerns, adding that some big ticket items on the school’s wish list may be put on hold. The system operates on an annual budget currently in excess of $80 million, and the budget year runs from July 1 to June 30. The school board could have to pass a spending resolution, which would allow the district to spend a twelfth of its expected annual budget while budget details are hammered out. National, state and local economies have taken a hit from shutdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, but Brooksher said it’s premature to know how it will impact school districts.

“Worst case scenarios are not productive,” he told the school board.

- James told school board members the system has distributed more than 166,000 meals in four weeks as part of its meals on wheels program.

- Rogers, who is assistant superintendent of operations, said work on the new RHHS is on hold while the U.S. Army Corps waits for the 30-day public comment period to expire. A copy of the public notice, SAS-2010-01205 (SPTCK) is available on the Corps website at sas.uasce. under regulatory and public notices. Rogers said work on other projects, to include additions to Richmond Hill Middle School, a greenhouse at BCHS and the new wing at Bryan County Elementary School are progressing.

- Brooksher invited board members to tour Frances Meeks Elementary, which is expected to open in the fall. It was unclear when the tour will take place, but could occur during the board’s next work session.

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Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher, standing, updates school board members at the April 23 meeting in Black Creek. Photo by Jeff Whitten.
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