The Clarke County School District may delay the start of classes next month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of July 7, interim superintendent Xernona Thomas said the district was still on track to restart in-person classes Aug. 3, but at the Board of Education’s July 9 meeting, Chief Academic Officer Brannon Gaskins said that date might be pushed back to Aug. 17 or Sept. 8.
A called meeting to decide on the start date is scheduled for Thursday, July 16 at 7 p.m. The school board continues to meet remotely, and meetings can be viewed at youtube.com/clarkecoschools.
Either way, families will have the option of keeping students home for distance learning. Pre-K, elementary school and middle school parents can choose between sending their children to school Monday through Thursday or keeping them home for live and pre-recorded lessons. Fridays will be distance-learning days for everyone.
High school students will have three options: Distance learning, a hybrid model or enrollment in the Georgia Virtual School. In the hybrid model, students will be divided into two groups, with one attending classes in person on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
About 6% of CCSD employees will be unable to return because they are high risk, according to Gaskins. While some teachers indicated on a survey that they don’t want to return to in-person teaching, they will have little choice. “Being well but ‘fearful’ or ‘not feeling safe’ is not a valid excuse to miss work,” Chief Human Resources Officer Lynn Duke wrote in a letter to staff. Teachers will be assigned to distance learning based on student need, according to Gaskins.
Schools will reopen with enhanced safety protocols, including mandatory face coverings, social distancing and an emphasis on hygiene practices. Meals will be served in classrooms. Buildings and buses will be sanitized daily. Bell schedules will be modified to accommodate social distancing on buses. Visitation inside schools will be limited.
But dozens of parents and teachers have raised detailed questions and concerns about the safety of returning to schools and the details of the reopening plan. School board members spent three hours reading 80 emails into the record. One letter signed by 110 teachers asked to delay the start of school until Sept. 8 and more input from staff.
To summarize our concerns and suggestions, we want a safe physical environment stocked with all the appropriate supplies and equipment to keep ourselves and our students safe. We want to know that our bus drivers will be safe and that our students [will] be transported safely to their school communities. We want a clear, detailed on-site health plan so that our schools are prepared when physical and mental health needs arise. We want on-site instructional modifications so that we know that we can teach our students to the best of our abilities even in the midst of a crisis. We want clear distance learning plans so that we know our students have their educational needs met while they are at home. And we want to know staff will be provided with appropriate leave plans and opportunities to learn from home when possible because we want the appropriate precautions set in place that will still allow us the honor of serving the Athens community.
The school board also voted unanimously to spend $1.3 million on Chromebooks and iPads for kindergarteners through second-graders. Members voted 7–2 to approve spending $493,000 on the “iLearning” assessment system widely panned by teachers, with John Knox and Antwon Stephens in opposition. Stephens was the only board member to vote against allocating $101,000 in federal CARES Act funds for coronavirus relief to Athens Christian School. That move also drew criticism from citizens, but the act mandates that public school districts act as a pass-through for private schools to receive funds.
An item related to former superintendent Demond Means—who remains on paid leave since the board voted to remove him in December—was taken off the agenda at the start of the meeting.
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