October Update - 10/16/20

Hello, everybody!

“I ain’t afraid of no ghost!” You may not recognize that quote, but it’s a line from the movie “Ghostbusters” – they were saying they weren’t afraid of the ghosts. I share that with you today because I received a Let’s Talk from a parent who said it was time for me, and for the Board of Education, to stop being scared of COVID-19. 

I’ll be honest with you: I’m not scared of COVID-19, but I do respect it. I respect it greatly. Every day I feel the weight of the decisions that we make – the decisions to have employees come to work and to have children stay home are major decisions that impact tens of thousands of lives. I don’t make those decisions lightly. So, I’m not afraid of COVID-19, but I recognize that the decisions I recommend to the Board and that I make for our District have major consequences – and I don’t make them lightly.

One of the major issues facing us now is when students will return to school. I continue to hear from parents who say that it’s time for the kids to come back, or that virtual learning is putting their jobs in jeopardy. I continue to hear from some teachers who say, I want my students back, but I also want to be safe. The Board and I are trying our best to determine the best course of action. I say the best course of action because there is no right course of action. There is no right or wrong here; there is just, what do you believe in your gut is the right thing to do?

We shared with you in August that by the end of October we would have a decision about what would happen during the second eight weeks of school, or the rest of the first semester. (Please remember, the semester actually ends in mid-January this school year.) As we are approaching that decision point, the Board of Education will have a Board meeting Thursday, October 22, and it is my intent to share with the Board the latest information we have at that point. That information will include how well we have been teaching in this virtual environment, how our students are doing and how we have continued to prepare for when students return to school. I will share with the Board once again that we are not making this decision in isolation – we are making this decision in consultation with the North Central Health District (NCHD) and the information they provide to us, as well as information from the Governor’s Office and the Georgia Department of Public Health. We are continuing to look at other data, as well, to ensure we have a balanced picture. Additionally, we continue to look at what surrounding school districts are doing, and what the school districts we have been collaborating with since this process started are doing. Those school districts include Savannah-Chatham, Dougherty and Clayton – districts that are similar to us in many ways. 

The decision about the remainder of the semester will not be made lightly, and it will not be made before the Board meeting. It may not even be made after the Board meeting because the Board may need time to consider what has been said and shared before they can provide guidance. Please know, though, that we will provide updated information on when students will return to school in person as quickly as we can.

For those who have heard the District is preparing for students to return, please know that is true – we are preparing – because they will return. I don’t know when, but I do know they will. I think it would be foolish and unwise of us if we were not preparing now for when that event will occur.

We are also continuing to clean schools and to make sure our buildings are safe. We are going to make sure that as the election occurs and some of our District’s facilities are used as polling places on November 3, that our students and staff will not be in jeopardy. Because of this effort, I do not anticipate students returning in person before Monday, November 9. 

Teachers, you continue to amaze me with your ability to instruct, your capacity to use your imagination and how you find ways to reach students. I commend you for that and I publicly thank you for what you are doing. 

For all of us, we should remember that with COVID-19 in our midst, we are now approaching the flu season. This past week, I got my flu shot and my pneumonia shot. For those of you who are able to get both shots, please do so. For those of you who are able to get a flu shot, please do so. We are investigating now if we will be able to set up flu clinics to provide vaccinations in our schools just as we have in the past because, again, just as I have a healthy respect for COVID-19, I have a healthy respect for the flu as well, and I have a respect for what can happen when those two coincide. 

As we have been preparing for students to return, some parents have shared with us that they have changed their mind about how they want their child to learn. Some have said they want their student to learn remotely and others have said they want their child to learn in person, but as we have gone through virtual learning for the first few weeks of school some have changed their minds. Our District has actively asked for updated information from parents on their preferred instructional model. Please know I have asked principals to work to the best of their ability to honor these requests from parents, but we will not be able to honor them all because we based our staffing in our schools upon the original requests from parents in the summer. We also based it upon being able to maintain safe distance within our classrooms. For every student that comes out of in-person learning, a student from virtual learning can go in. We are going to do all we can to maintain the smaller class sizes given to principals in the summer because we believe that is what is in the best interest of the safety of everyone.

Finally, please know there has been a lot of conversation about students losing a lot of opportunities to learn because of the virtual environment we are in. I do agree that if I had a preference all of our students would be back in school, but I also think it is incorrect to say that virtual learning is no learning. Virtual learning has been around for a long time. In fact, when I was in the Army, I received my Certified Financial Planner certification through a correspondence course, which is the main way it was issued back then to people who were CFPs. I also know that in the Army, when we were transitioning from an Army that was not good to an Army that was very good, a lot of courses were taught online and virtually through correspondence courses. Like anything, it’s what you put into it, and what I have observed over the past few weeks of school is a lot of people putting in a lot of effort. My hat is off to the parents who have sacrificed to make this learning experience the best they can for their children. My hat is off to the employers who found ways to allow their employees to be parents in a very trying time for all of us. And, my hat is off to those who have seen COVID-19 up close and personally. 

I said a long time ago and I will say it again: We are going to come through this, and we are going to come through it together. We are better. We are going to be OK. I believe, and I trust, and I have faith that we all want the same thing – for our students to receive the best education they can in a safe learning environment. I am committed to making that happen and I know you are too. 

Thank you for taking time to read this, and thank you for your continued support for the Bibb County School District.

-VIP Continues

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