School trustees removed their face coverings for just seconds to pose for an updated board photo, including newly-elected trustee Anthony Boddie, far left. (Photo by Greg Rickabaugh)

School Board Chairperson Kristy Spears said Tuesday night that she wanted to squelch rumors: The Fort Mill School District has NOT decided to close schools after Thanksgiving.

  But on a special meeting when they welcomed new trustee Anthony Boddie to the board, the issues remain the same for the district: How to educate kids during a pandemic. The latest Friday update showed that 307 students and 53 staff members were in quarantine.

Kristy Spears

   “I will say, for the record, I know the numbers are troubling because of quarantine. And to me, any number of quarantines is still less than 100 percent of quarantine, because that is what it would be, going the other direction,” Spears said. “It does not appear to be spreading like wildfire through the schools.”

    The district had many updates Tuesday night related to the pandemic:

  • Superintendent Chuck Epps said he wanted to stress again that the district’s current “intention” is to return to five days of face-to-face learning for high school and middle school students. That should happen at the beginning of the second semester starting on Jan. 26. But he said the ultimate decision won’t be made until an examination of the data after the new year. “We hope and pray to get back to school, face to face,” he said. “It has to be a healthy environment.”
  • The district said they are preparing the middle schools and high schools for the return by ordering desk shields, which should be installed in December.
  • The district recently completed a survey of staff to determine any additional safety measures that could be implemented to stop or slow the spread of COVID-19.

   The pandemic updates came on a special night when the board not only recognized district retirees and outgoing trustee Tom Audette, but they also swore in Boddie as well as Spears and Dr. Scott Frattaroli, who were re-elected this month.

   Moments later, the board voted 4-2 to re-elect Spears as chairperson and 5-1 to have Michele Branning serve as vice chairperson. No one else was nominated.

   Trustee Wayne Bouldin opposed both, and Anthony Boddie opposed Spears to continue as board leader.

   After the meeting, Bouldin said he knows Spears will continue to do a great job. He said he thinks the board needs to change leadership more frequently than it has, and he opposed the renomination on principle. Bouldin is entering his 12th year on the board.

   Boddie said he believes that Spears has done a wonderful job as chairwoman of the school board. Coming from a business background, he believes she has represented the district well from a financial acumen perspective. Ultimately, though, he believes term limits would benefit the board.

   “I just believe we need to give other people who are serving the community a chance to be able to hone their skillsets if they want to be a chair,” Boddie said.

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   The new trustee said he doesn’t think many board members were in a position because of the time commitment or other factors. Boddie said the first person that crossed his mind was Dr. Frattaroli.

    “But I am a huge fan of Kristy and I supported her during the campaign,” he said.

In other Tuesday night highlights:

   Recognition of 2019-2020 District Retirees: The district recognized 32 retirees of the Fort Mill School District, who retired during or at the end of the 2019–2020 academic year.

   Court Date Set: Trustees learned that a court date has been set with the S.C. Supreme Court of Jan. 13 at 10:30 a.m. regarding the impact fee lawsuit.

    Free Meals May Continue Through June: The district has submitted a waiver to extend the free meals program through the end of the school year or until funding is exhausted.

   Update for Opening of River Trail Elementary and Forest Creek Middle: Dr. Tommy Schmolze and Mrs. Marty McGinn provided an update on the progress of the construction and opening of two new schools. River Trail Elementary School is on target to open on Jan.3. Forest Creek Middle School construction is moving forward and remains on schedule for the 2021-2022 school year.

   Virtual Academy Update: A survey is planned to gauge interest in continuing the Virtual Academy beyond this school year. The district is in the beginning stages of planning for the staffing of the new middle school and the impact of virtual students on staffing needs.

   Student Services/Tobacco Cessation Update: Dr. Tommy Schmolze provided an update regarding the district’s new steps to join the fight against the vaping epidemic among students. The administration, with the support of the board, announced the district will join dozens of other school districts across the country in litigation against JUUL Labs, Inc.

    Legal counsel filed suit on Nov.6 in federal court in California, where a class action lawsuit against JUUL is pending on behalf of dozens of school districts across the country. No taxpayers’ funds will be used as part of this litigation.

    Fort Mill School District administrators and board felt it necessary to join this effort as the district continues to address this health risk to our students and works to end the vaping epidemic.

   Testing Window Extension Waiver: The board approved the administration’s request to allow the district to apply for a waiver to allow for testing to occur outside the regularly scheduled window. This waiver would allow for a larger testing window to administer testing to all students, including Virtual Academy students.

   Enrollment and Attendance Update: Dr. Epps announced that the district will use Monday, Dec. 21 as an eLearning make-up day for the day missed on Oct. 29 due to inclement weather for all face-to-face and Virtual Academy students. Staff will be asked to provide an eLearning curriculum that is in line with the current class curriculum and will not require live instruction on Dec. 21. Assignments should be due once students return to school following the winter break.

Greg "Ricky Bobby" Rickabaugh has lived in the Fort Mill and York County community since 2006. He has covered the area while a reporter for The Charlotte Observer and a freelance writer for The Fort Mill...