BOE opts not to change 2020-21 Sullivan school calendar

Rick Wagner • Oct 6, 2019 at 8:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Schools 2020-21 calendar won’t be changing after all, a split Board of Education decided Thursday night.

The BOE voted 3-4 on a motion by Mark Ireson to reconsider the 7-0 approval of the 2020-21 calendar from the Sept. 5 meeting. Voting to reconsider were Ireson, June Thomas and Paul Robinson. Voting against were Chairman Michael Hughes, Vice Chairman Randall Jones, Randall Gilmore and Matthew Spivey.

“I really missed the boat. I made a mistake,” Ireson said of voting with the other board members on a calendar that would have school start on Aug. 3 and the fall semester end Dec. 18. “We should have gone with the majority vote.”

Ireson said he’s gotten complaints about the choice, including one all board members received via email as well as calls and other emails.

The option adopted by the BOE, upon a staff recommendation, was contrary to an online survey of slightly more than 1,500 people. The other proposal would have had students returning Aug. 10 but not getting out until Dec. 23. Of 1,507 informal votes cast, Calendar A, which the board approved, got 744 votes or 49.4%. Calendar B got 763 votes or 50.6%.

Hughes said advantages to the later start included a longer summer break and not having to hold an in-service day for the Aug. 6 elections held in school buildings, but Gilmore said the issue he had with going with the slim majority is that folks could vote as many times as they wanted, and they didn’t have to have anything to do with the school system.

“One person could have voted 100 times,” Gilmore said, although Ireson later said, “Both sides could.” At the work session, Gilmore said he had talked with two teachers who voted multiple times.

Jones said some families already have made vacation or travel plans based on the approved calendar and that he believed the calendar as chosen should remain with the “promise to do better next year.”

BOE members asked if votes could be limited to one per person, but Assistant Director of Schools Angie Buckles said that might inadvertently limit staff voting on the same IP address at a school or other locations and that folks could clear their computer cookies to bypass that, anyway.

Technology supervisor Karen Nave said she has shied away from only letting folks vote with a confirmed email or once per email since that might make people think their votes were tracked. She added that most people have multiple emails.

Thomas asked why the system couldn’t do paper votes at the schools for staff and students. Nave said that could be done but would limit parent votes from those who might not have ready access or time for a trip to the school.

Robinson said he sees the Dec. 23 end to the fall semester as a plus for parents who will have to find child care for students.

Early start dates for schools in Tennessee are driven mostly by standardized testing. So schools that used to start in late August a generation ago generally start in early August.