Guilford County Schools officials are raising alarm bells about aging infrastructure in the system. One school has already had to close early this week, and that's just an example of the many challenges the district is facing this year.
Jamestown Middle School was dismissed early on Thursday after the air conditioning stopped working. Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras says about 540 work orders have been put forward by schools for HVAC issues in buildings.
She says the uptick is due to high temperatures, pandemic-related delays for parts, and old buildings.
“We have some buildings that are 100 years old and we are trying to maintain these systems where we don't even have parts for them and the students are trying to learn in these buildings some with asthma and other preexisting conditions,” says Contreras.
District officials say they can't use fans because of COVID-19, but they are working with principals to keep kids safe and proactively moving them around if needed and exploring other alternatives.
Contreras says the school board will be discussing capital needs and she expects a bond referendum proposal for next year will be part of that discussion.
At a press conference, Contreras also addressed what she called unprecedented car lines for student pickup and drop-off since fewer people are riding buses, as well as a bus driver shortage.
Despite the challenges, GCS says it's starting off on a good foot. As of Tuesday, more than 64,000 students are enrolled, and that number is growing. There are also zero teacher vacancies as the new school year begins, thanks to a large recruitment effort that used federal COVID relief funding to offer bonuses and other incentives.
As for COVID metrics, currently 224 students are in quarantine. Of that number, 99 are student athletes.
The district says it will begin mandatory testing for unvaccinated student athletes and for unvaccinated students who participate in high-risk extracurricular activities including marching band, chorus and dance. The testing requirement also applies to unvaccinated coaches and sponsors in these areas.
Contreras says the universal mask requirement will remain in place and the school board will reevaluate that policy in 10 weeks. The district is also working with local health officials to host vaccination clinics on some campuses.
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