HALEYVILLE - Safety concerns relating to crowds gathering at certain events sponsored by Haleyville City Schools have been brought into question, in sight of the ever-present COVID-19 pandemic that is resulting in deaths of community residents, and students and faculty members being quarantined.
During a Tuesday, Jan. 19, work session of the Haleyville Board of Education, board member Beth McAlpine asked Superintendent Dr. Holly Sutherland to give a report on the number of COVID-19 cases at HCS, noting how the virus was affecting students and faculty.
“(Through) contacts or exposures, we have seven at one school, 25 at one school, 29 at one school and one bus driver,” Sutherland responded. “Actual positives are one teacher and four or five students.”
“With that being said,” McAlpine responded, “we’re having a football banquet How are we going to do that, because always before, we have been so packed in there?”
Sutherland noted that only two tickets per student are being allowed.
“So that’s a kid, plus their parents,” McAlpine responded, “So we’re looking at three times 80 (number of players). We’re looking at 250 people?”
“They don’t all come,” Sutherland said, “so probably 200.”
McAlpine said she had a call from someone concerned about the space being limited concerning the football banquet,
which was planned to be held at the Slaughter Fellowship Hall of First United Methodist Church.
“It concerns me because we’ve got hospitals (that are full),” said McAlpine. She noted that someone she knew got sick (not COVID related), but could not go to the local hospital because it was full.
Looking ahead to upcoming school events, McAlpine expressed concern about having the annual Leo’s Loveliest pageant, which is usually attended by several hundred people, including contestants, escorts, family members and the general public. Questions about how the school would handle events like the senior play also arose. The play is usually attended by several hundred people, with performances for students and the public.
“We haven’t decided yet,” Sutherland said regarding the senior play.
Concerning Leo’s, each contestant this year will receive five tickets, and each family would be seated six feet apart,keeping with social distance guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, Sutherland said.
“Masks are required. They have a plan for all of that,” Sutherland added.
The Slaughter Fellowship Hall is a smaller facility for the football banquet, Sutherland said. McAlpine recommended the banquet be moved to the elementary school cafetorium, which is a larger facility for spreading people out.
“I don’t want to take anything away from students because it’s the last thing for so many of them,” McAlpine pointed out.
The Class of 2020 had to miss the last three months of their senior year and all related activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, McAlpine said.
“The numbers were not even bad,“ she said. “Now, it is a true pandemic in this area and it seems like we’re all going about our business of daily living. It’s like we reversed it.”
“I think everyone is pretty much falling in the same pattern,” Sutherland responded. “I know Winston County is having pageants and all those kinds of things before us.
“I think everybody is taking precaution,” Sutherland added. “Those things are a choice, if you attend.”
Board Member Kris Burleson said having the football banquet at the elementary cafetorium would give more room to social distance.
McAlpine pointed out that people in the community have been dying from confirmed COVID cases, and some school employees have been very sick from the virus.
“We’ve been super low in numbers, even though we’ve had basketball and that type of thing,” Sutherland noted. “I guess what lulls us into comfort is we haven’t had any students who have been severely sick in our district, and very low numbers of parents and exposures through school.”
McAlpine then asked, “When we make these plans, do we consult with other medical professionals or do we just do it from an administrative standpoint?”
“We just follow the CDC guidelines that we have been given in our plan,” Sutherland said.
Winston County, Dr. Sutherland explained, was in the ellow category when it comes to COVID-19 cases.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has created a dashboard that rates each county in the state according with that county’s COVID-19 risk.
On the date of the work session, Winston County was in the yellow, or moderate risk range, according to this dashboard. According to ADPH, several sets of data are used to create the risk indicator, and the data is always approximately a week old when it is updated on a weekly basis in order to allow for it to be completely gathered before it is reported.
“We don’t feel like we’re in yellow,” responded McAlpine.
“By our plan, we’re following everything that we have put out,” Sutherland said. “The tricky part is that sometimes, because it’s people we know, it hits closer to home. I know there is significantly more (persons with COVID-19) in the hospital,” she said.
“I just think as much as we can be cautious...” McAlpine said.
The original plan for Leo’s was that each contestant be given five tickets for immediate family and any extra tickets would be sold as general admission.
“We will sell the rest of the tickets, and I don’t know how many will be left, because there’s not as many as there has been,” Sutherland said. “I don’t know that there will be that many (tickets) left once you spread everybody out.”
Board President Donna Jones asked who had the idea for the football banquet to be held at the Methodist church.
“It is because that is where it has been in the past,” Sutherland answered.
“If there is going to be a pretty good crowd there, I think the elementary school cafeteria, where it is real spread out...They have a very good sound system,” Jones said.
“I am glad we have that many kids out, that parents support it,” board member Kris Burleson said about the upcoming banquet. “The kids deserve their banquet.”
Jones agreed she wanted the students to have a banquet but that the banquet was crowded last year at the Methodist church.
“I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I’m a realist,” McAlpine pointed out later after the meeting. “COVID-19 is here, and the healthcare professionals are swamped.
“Anything we can do to keep them from being overloaded...Taking nothing away from children, but we don’t want people dying either.
“I don’t want to be the one board member who wants everything taken from the children, I don’t, but I don’t want to also pretend (COVID-19) is not here,” McAlpine said.
Sutherland confirmed Jan. 21, that the athletic banquet was officially moved to the elementary cafetorium for this Saturday, Jan. 30.
“In any type of event or faculty meetings and those kind of things, we follow all CDC guidelines as we move forward,” Sutherland added.
The Leo’s Loveliest pageant, set for Feb. 26-27 at the elementary cafetorium will not be open to the public or general admission sales, Sutherland confirmed.
“It will be just for family,” she said. “If we see our numbers are down as far as contestants and we’re able to open that, we will social distance in the back after our contestants have the ability to buy tickets.”
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.