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Open letter to Barrow County School System on reopening plans during COVID-19 pandemic

On Thursday, a group of parents and teachers, called Concerned Stakeholders of Barrow County Schools, sent a letter to the Barrow County Board of Education schools Superintendent Chris McMichael that outlined their concerns with classes set to resume on Aug. 3, given the widespread community transmission of Covid-19 in Georgia. The letter included a list of questions that stakeholders do not feel to have been adequately addressed by BCSS's reopening plan and included suggestions for a safer hybrid reopening plan.  Parents requested to be on the agenda at the School Board's July 28 meeting and would like the superintendent to attend a Zoom meeting where parent concerns and suggestions can be discussed. The deadline to enroll in virtual learning is July 17 and parents have to make a decision that will impact the next five months of education without accurate information.  We are deeply concerned for the safety of students, staff, and teachers if the current reopening plan takes place on August 3 and do not want our children and teachers to be a social experiment in Covid-19 spread.

The letter read as follows:

Dear members of the Barrow County Board of Education and the Barrow County School Board:

This year has brought new challenges and concerns for everyone in the world and has thrown our normal lives into chaos. We in Barrow County had been fortunate to not become a hot spot for coronavirus outbreaks, but now that Georgia is adding 3000 new Covid-19 cases a day, our luck may be running out. Georgia’s current rate of positive PCR diagnostic Covid tests is 15.5%, this is three times more than the rate the World Health Organization says is necessary to keep communities from being overwhelmed with coronavirus. Georgia now has 82% of its ICU beds occupied and a 59% rate of change in cases over 14 days. Coronavirus is now a wildfire burning out of control across the state. To quote Dr. Amber Schmidtke, of Mercer University School of Medicine, “If we had a 14-day change in cases of 2% to 3% like in New Jersey and New York, we could have reasonable discussions about opening schools in Georgia right now.” Instead, Georgia is increasing by 3% each day and opening plans continue as if a pandemic is raging in our community. Dr. Richard Besser, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control, said on July 15th that “reopening America’s schools starts with controlling community spread of Covid-19.” We, as parents, are imploring the Barrow County School System to develop a more realistic plan for reopening schools.

At a time when Georgia hospitals are reaching capacity and there is a national shortage of body bags, it feels like an abdication of leadership and magical thinking to believe that Barrow County Schools can commence with face-to-face classes with any semblance of safety. Israel reopened their schools last month. Within two weeks, one school has 130 cases of Covid-19. Before all schools closed the following week, they had more than 244 students and staff testing positive for coronavirus and 7000 students and teachers in quarantine by government order. A Christian sleepover camp in Missouri put several social distancing policies in place and had students self-isolate for 14 days prior to camp. The camp closed within two weeks after 82 campers and staff tested positive for Covid-19. 3 Arizona teachers contracted coronavirus teaching summer school last month and 1 of the teachers died. This week, the superintendent of Clarke County School System was hospitalized for Covid-19. All local hospitals have begun to redirect patients to other areas because they are all at capacity. These examples illustrate how dangerous opening schools will be before viral spread is under control. Why would parents, students, and staff want to take a risk so great that it is almost guaranteed to end badly? Barrow’s students, teachers, and staff should not be guinea pigs in a social experiment on community spread.

As a group of concerned parents, we have met and compiled a list of questions and suggestions for alternative opening plans. It is our wish that we can meet and have a conversation to share our concerns and receive answers to the questions we have about children, staff, and teacher’s safety.

We would like to meet with the leadership of both the BOE and Barrow School Board. We appreciate that these are unique and trying times and we commend the effort that the Barrow County School System has invested in making schools safe. It is our hope that through collaboration, we can find safe, workable solutions for all families and staff. To that end, we would like a Zoom meeting with Dr. McMichael and his staff and be on the agenda at the next school board meeting to voice our concerns. The Concerned Stakeholders are more than happy to facilitate and host any of the Zoom meetings. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to speaking with you.


Concerned Stakeholders of Barrow County Schools

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