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CCSD Offers More Details on Reopening Plans, Meets With NAACP

CCSD Interim Superintendent Xernona Thomas.

During a Clarke County School District virtual town hall meeting Aug. 5, interim superintendent Xernona Thomas said that virtual learning isn’t ideal and that this is “a challenging time.” 

Administrators offered more specifics about what reopening will look like than what virtual learning will look like. Viewers learned that Chief of Operations Dexter Fisher has bought 15,000 face masks, along with wipes and shoe covers. He has hundreds of gallons of disinfectant and MERV-8 filters for CCSD’s HVAC systems. There will be signs in the hallways and a renewed emphasis on handwashing. Buses will carry 48 kids, not 72.

Amy Roark, who heads the school district’s nursing staff, said the district is taking seriously the safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the UGA epidemiology team. When the schools open for in-person learning, Roark said, there will be disinfecting supplies, personal protective equipment for faculty and staff, social distancing, masks and reminders about hand hygiene. Until the COVID-19 transmission rate drops significantly, returning to school isn’t safe, she said.

Chief Academic Officer Brannon Gaskins said there will be live and recorded instruction for students, all of whom will have computers. Individual schools will work with families needing instruction outside the regular school hours, which are 8:30 a.m.–3 p.m. for early learning and elementary students and 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m. for middle and high schoolers, with 11 a.m.–12 p.m. for lunch. “Screen time will be limited to support the developmental needs of students,” he said. 

The district will rely on Google Classroom, Zoom and Google Meet. For grading and communication, parents can log into Infinite Campus. Diagnostic assessments will be conducted at home. Gaskins said iReady or MAPP will provide instruction for remediation and/or acceleration.

Heidi Hill, the district’s director of special education, said that occupational therapy will be in a virtual learning plan and that the district will partner with parents about how to deal virtually with behavior issues. A caseload manager will check in with the student’s family weekly. All the Individualized Education Plans will be reviewed.

When will students be able to return to school in person? No one knows for sure, but CCSD will take a phased approach. First, parents or guardians of students in kindergarten through second grade will be given the option of face-to-face instruction, then third through fifth grade, then all students, administrators said at an Aug. 6 work session. In the meantime, teachers will be required to report to their otherwise empty buildings and teach virtual lessons from their classrooms. Classes are scheduled to start on Sept. 8. [RM]

NAACP Questions BOE About Means

Local NAACP leaders pressed Clarke County school board members on the departure of superintendent Demond Means during a virtual meeting between the two groups last week.

In what was largely a rehash of public comments made at school board meetings in the months since Means was placed on administrative leave, NAACP members repeated the claim that Means was let go as a result of behind-the-scenes maneuvering by racist “special interest groups.” 

Means and the school board agreed to a $637,500 settlement last month, formally ending his tenure at CCSD. He told the board in November that he wanted to discuss his exit after the board voted to urge the state Professional Standards Commission to clear him of an ethics complaint, but also said they would hold him accountable at the local level.

School board members said they had no knowledge of who filed the ethics complaint, nor who filed subsequent complaints with accreditation agency Cognia or the influential “special interest groups” Cognia referred to in its report. “The report was filed anonymously,” Linda Davis said. ‘We don’t have that information.”

“I think there will always be special interest groups that exist,” board President LaKeisha Gantt added.

Gantt, Davis and Kara Dyckman said the board is making progress on meeting the recommendations laid out by Cognia for retaining accreditation, such as filling out self-evaluations and meeting with the Georgia School Board Association for training. Davis said the board—which has six members in their first terms—is improving.

“I would chalk a lot of our failures that we’ve had to newness, but what I am excited about now, and it’s only been recently, is that we seem to have a board that’s moving in the same direction toward learning what our roles are and actually researching the policy on issues that come before the board,” Davis said. 

Most of that work is happening behind the scenes, according to Gantt. “Even if it’s not done publicly does not mean that we’re not committed to holding each other accountable in an effort to correct and improve the areas that need to be improved,” she said. [Blake Aued]