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Teacher advocates later opening date for Athens schools during COVID-19 pandemic

As we approach the start of a new school year, it seems impossible to do so without some hesitation. It is refreshing to hear so many voices engaged in dialogue about our schools in this moment.  There are shared conversations about fears, desires, and concerns.  Once we are past this moment in time it is my hope that dialogue will remain open about our schools, and that we will grapple with more long-standing diseases (such as disproportionate punitive measures, failure to adequately lift and support the performance of students of color, and the need for a more representative teacher base).

In the here and now, though, we live in a time defined by a global pandemic (a truth that will only serve to accelerate the other diseases listed above).  As we prepare for large groups of students and staff to come together in the close quarters of classrooms and school buildings, it feels impossible to read any number of warning signs (a rise in coronavirus cases in our area, the infection of staff members and loved ones in our community) and not worry about the consequences of rushing to meeting educational needs in traditional ways.

I hope- as a parent and as a teacher- that the district is considering a delay in starting classes.  Without clear communication on this from the district, however, there is only speculation.  Were there to be a delay, though, especially if it was only for a month or so- I hope for clarity on what outside (city, county, and state-wide) and inside (within individual schools and clear districtwide policy) measures would indicate that we are welcoming students into a safe environment.  

Further, it is my hope that the district will invite parents, teachers, custodians, office personnel, and cafeteria workers to serve on the Reopening Taskforce.  I am happy that the district is going to host a town hall forum, though this should not be considered an adequate replacement for honoring the perspectives and decision-making of groups who serve unique roles in our schools.  While the current make-up of the Reopening Taskforce has a number of experts, it is clear that it is missing many critical voices.

I don't see a clear and easy path forward, one unmarred by substantial fears.  That is not an excuse for vagueness, though.  Our schools have asked teachers and parents to commit to plans that seem to either lack specificity or are actively evolving in dramatic ways.  As a community member, parent, and teacher- I understand that our schools need the opportunity to adjust to better meet the needs of this unique distress.  Additionally, I respect that changes don't have to meet my specific or isolated needs- we are a community and this is part of the package.  However, there are district-wide policy considerations that need to be surfaced (e.g., quarantine procedures, class size limits, mask requirements and consequences for failing to adhere to this requirement) and voices that must be part of the process of developing evolving procedures to meet emerging needs (voices that should have been part of decision-making from the start).

I am passionate about our community and consider it a great privilege to work within the district.  Likewise, looking at the plans in place for some of our neighboring districts- it should not be lost on folks that a strong framework has been communicated for CCSD that is much more responsive than that of other communities.  We should not rush to diminish the work of our district leaders and the Reopening Taskforce in order to communicate concerns and/or perceived deficiencies.  

Chris Woodward

6th Grade Teacher at Clarke Middle School 

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