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School System Awarded $500,000 Telemedicine Grant

The Coffee County Board of Education (BOE) met on Tuesday, February 5, for their work session and monthly meeting, and it was announced that the school system was recently awarded a grant in the amount of $500,000 for the purchase of telemedicine equipment. Superintendent Dr. Morris Leis addressed the system’s School Safety Plan, which included a discussion about armed administrators, and also addressed the “concerns” some citizens had with the renovation of the new weight room at Coffee High.

During the regular meeting, Coffee Schools Nursing Supervisor Kathy Cole and Family Connections Director April Thomason announced that the Coffee County School System was recently awarded a grant in the amount of $500,000, which will be used to purchase telemedicine equipment.

Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technologies in order to provide clinical health care at a distance, and Cole stated, “By receiving this grant, we truly are on the cusp of something so very innovative.”

The school system will purchase telemedicine equipment for Eastside, Westside, Indian Creek, Coffee Middle School, the George Washington Carver Freshman Campus, and Coffee High and will likely purchase a portable unit to be used at Ambrose, West Green, Nicholls, and Broxton.

The equipment will allow students and school employees and staff to be seen by a certified medical physician without ever having to leave the classroom or school. By doing so, statistics have shown student and employee absences will reduce dramatically. Prescriptions can also be obtained during the consultation and depending on which pharmacy the patient uses, prescriptions will also be delivered to the schools.

There are over 240 doctors in the physicians’ network the school will utilize, all who take insurance, and 41 school systems in Georgia will be utilizing this technology by the end of the year, according to Cole.

During the work session, Dr. Leis was asked by Board member Ronnie Johnson to “explain” the weight room after Johnson stated that he had been contacted by several concerned citizens about funding “athletics over academics and student performance.”

Leis stated, “There was a plan put in place before I arrived by our former athletic director [Bud Drew] that included priorities for our athletic department, which included a new stadium or renovations, new tennis courts, and the weight room. There were 10 to 12 priorities in all that were to be done over a period of time and the last item on the list was the weight room and [football] field house. These were part of the plan that the previous superintendent [Dr. Steve Wilmoth] and the former athletic director put in place. So basically we fulfilled a plan that was already laid out.

“The Board of Education did not purchase the weights and equipment that is in the weight room. We spent between $500,000 to $600,000 on the renovation of the facility with SPLOST funds that were approved by the voters of Coffee County, and the local Touchdown Club put in anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000 in new equipment. This facility is something the community should be proud of and we are also fortunate enough to have a booster club that cares so much about the students.”

As for the “concern” that the board was spending more money on athletics that academics, Leis commented, “The new Westside Elementary School was finished last year, we recently approved to spend around $1 million on new books, we recently approved to replace all of our student computers at the cost of around $360,000, and we are building a new school currently in Broxton.”

Leis also provided an update on the system’s School Safety Plan, which was recently “simplified,” after several recent tragic incidents occurred across the country (Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and the Alabama school bus driver that was shot and killed by a man who took one of the students on the bus as a hostage).

Leis stated he and school administrators “broke down all the policies and procedures step by step and simplified the plan.” The plan now calls for two types of lockdowns, hard and soft, and each school has a “flip chart” on site with the all the procedures included.

Leis also stated that he met in January with Sheriff Doyle Wooten and School Resource Officer Director Randy Courson and discussed “safety issues and increasing the level of communication.”

Sheriff Wooten has “committed” to having deputies randomly monitor all of the schools in the county, and the Georgia State Patrol is also doing so. Leis stated that the schools now have “more police and law enforcement presence than ever before.”

Board Chairman Mona Moore asked Leis about his feelings on having armed administrators in each school, and Leis responded, “There is a current bill in legislation asking to allow administrators to be armed, but personally as a superintendent I would be concerned and hesitant about arming administrators. As a former principal there were times in my career that I would have felt comfortable being armed, especially when you are responsible from anywhere to a couple of hundred kids to 2,000 kids. I’m on the fence with the issue and honestly, there are administrators that I wouldn’t be comfortable arming.”

Moore, who appeared to be in favor of arming administrators, said the idea was “open for discussion.”

Board member Johnson, who appeared to be against arming administrators, stated, “The problem could be fixed if people were nice to one another.” Johnson stated, “When you mess with people’s kids this can make people click. We gotta have more training, we have to treat people right and fair.” Johnson said by doing so, he believes it will prevent a situation where “a man goes and gets himself a Smirnoff and then comes back to kill people.”

The board recognized Eastside Elementary third grade student Jessie Hutcheson after she recently placed second in the nation in an essay contest after being the overall winner for the state of Georgia. Jessie is the daughter of William and Josette Hutcheson.

The board also recognized the Great Promise Kids program mentors and students. The Great Promise Kids program is funded by a state grant and coordinated through a partnership with Coffee Middle School, the local 4-H Club, and the Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce. Mentors awarded were Adam Smith, Lee and Andrea Taylor, JoAnne Lewis, Heather Butler, Wynetta Bolder, Kevin Tatum, Jane McMillan, Joanne Roberson, Gwen Sanders, Tim Allmond, Terrell Jacobs, Mesha Davis, and Kim Wade. Great Promise Kids participants included Tristan McNeil, John and Devontae Watts, Jaquan Moore, Eboney Brown, Keyarra Frazier Grady, Jackielyn Brinson, Tori Barnes, Demetriana Chestnut, Dallas Swann, Kalee Gill, Zykia Ross, Sasha Adsitt, Courtney McMillan, and Amber Clark.

Also recognized at the meeting were the principals of each Coffee County School after it was announced that all the schools were recently again accredited by the Georgia Accrediting Commission.

Leis provided the board with an update on the construction project for the new Broxton Mary Hayes Elementary School and stated the project was “on schedule and well underway.” The old gymnasium has been demolished, along with portions of the school, but Principal Lee Mobley stated there have “been no hiccups and no interference with student instruction.”

The board approved its monthly financial report, which included a cash balance of $10,064,397.93, and a fund equity of $10,057253.21. The board also approved six technology bids through E-Rate, one out of state travel request for special education students to visit the Jacksonville Zoo, and a policy revision involving background checks.

The meeting was the first since the passing of Board member Billy Cliett, and the board paid tribute to Cliett by placing a Trojan hat and shirt where he was usually seated. Chairman Moore read a statement about Cliett’s vacancy, stating, “We are all deeply saddened by the recent passing of Mr. Billy Cliett and we ask that you continue to keep his family and friends in your prayers. We believe the focus should remain on Mr. Cliett and his family for the remainder of this week; therefore, we will not discuss his vacant seat at this meeting. There will be a called meeting on Monday, February 11, at 4:00 p.m. when we will lay out a plan of action to fill the vacant seat. Any questions or comments will be heard at that time.”

The board heard complaints from three parents, two of which are the parents of a Coffee High Lady Trojan basketball team. The parents voiced their “concerns” over varsity girls’ basketball coach Sherri Harris, which included lack of playing time for certain players and the lack of Caucasian players on the team. They also accused Harris of breaking Georgia High School Association rules by allowing a current Coffee player to live with her, even though she does not have “custody” of the student.

Another parent voiced her concern over the policy involving letterman’s jackets.

Dr. Leis agreed to “look into” both complaints.

Board member Johnson also stated that he has been contacted by some school employees who told him they have been “retaliated against” for contacting him about certain “issues.” Johnson warned that this could lead to “whistleblower” lawsuits.

The Coffee County Board of Education will hold a called meeting on Monday, February 11, at 4:00 p.m. The next regularly scheduled work session and meeting is set for Thursday, February 28, at 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

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