Welcome to the Cherokee County School District’s Fact vs. Fiction webpage. In these times of “fake news” circulated on social media and “unofficial” social media groups, this webpage is a place where you can find accurate information in a timely manner. This is an expansion of CCSD’s long-standing commitment to transparency and accountability and a part of our nationally recognized Open CCSD transparency project and webpage. If you have a question for us to consider, you can email it to email@example.com.
4/23/21 FICTION: Is the content of this actual email sent to CCSD true? “It has recently come to our attention that Dr. Cecelia Lewis has been hired by the Cherokee County School District as an “administrator on special assignment.” This “special assignment” is implementing DEI and Critical Race Theory to our kids throughout the district. We will not let this happen. We will not stand by and let extreme and dangerous ideology spread to our kids. We respectfully request that this “special assignment” be terminated immediately or it will be met with very strong opposition.”
FACT: CCSD has created an administrator on special assignment position to oversee social and emotion learning (SEL) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The person hired for the position begins in July and will be a part of the Office of School Operations and report to the Chief Operations Officer. There are no plans to introduce "critical race theory" – this is a complete fabrication created through rumor mongering on social media. CCSD follows Georgia Performance Standards of Excellence, which determine what lessons students will learn and when, and those standards do not include "critical race theory"; these standards are detailed on our website at https://www.cherokeek12.net/Content2/divisions-curriculum-student-performance-standards-and-curriculum-maps. This new position doesn’t have the authority to independently select or implement curriculum in classrooms. CCSD’s SEL initiative began several years ago in response to rising suicide rates, self-harm and depression among our students. The DEI portion of the role is to assist with related priorities in the Blueprint strategic plan that the School Board adopted in 2019 after community effort involving students, parents, employees and business and community partners. You can read the plan and learn about its background on our website at https://www.cherokeek12.net/Content/strategic-plan-blueprint.
8/12/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard CCSD is only holding school for 10 days or for three weeks in order to earn funding or a grant, is that true?
FACT: No – this is not how school funding is determined. The State of Georgia requires public school systems submit attendance reports for two specific dates, one in October and one in March, and those totals are used to determine education funding. The standard school year is Georgia is 180 days, but CCSD has an approved waiver for that requirement, which was requested by the School Board in preparation for closures due to inclement weather or other emergencies. Federal education funding is based on specific needs, such as the number of students receiving Special Education services or who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. We are not aware of any grants that require school systems hold school on specific days or for specific periods of time. Our Superintendent and School Board are committed to offering in-person learning as long as it’s sustainable, as expressed in Dr. Hightower’s message on Aug. 7, 2020 archived at https://bit.ly/CCSDmessages.
7/24/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that class sizes are going to be 38 students or more, is that true?
FACT: There are no plans to increase in-person class sizes beyond last school year's levels -- which were the lowest class sizes in six years; for high school classes, that was normally a maximum of 32 students, but averaged 27. Class sizes decrease along with grade levels down to 20 students in a kindergarten class. School staff still are building schedules for both in-person and Digital Learning classes. Digital Learning classes will be slightly larger given that there is not a physical classroom constraint, so it is feasible a high school Digital Learning class could have 38 students.
7/23/2020 FICTION: I read online that CCSD bars teachers from posting on social media or talking to reporters?
FACT: Unfortunately, an online media source reported this false information and will not correct it, despite our requests. All CCSD employees are required to annually review and agree to various policies and guidelines as a condition of their employment; these include social media guidelines that are posted publicly here. There is a School Board Policy that specifically addresses news media, and that is posted publicly here. Additionally, educators must adhere to the Georgia Code of Ethics for Educators, which is posted publicly here. Neither the policies, guidelines nor the Code bar speech – they set agreed-upon limitations, similar to what most workers agree to in their various professions and/or places of employment … for example, a solicitor should not share his personal opinion about a pending case, a manufacturing employee should not share his company’s trade secrets, and a store employee should not argue with customers.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that the Superintendent is getting a 22% raise in the 2020-21 budget?
FACT: The Superintendent is receiving the same “step” salary increase as all eligible full-time CCSD employees, which, on average is 3%. With that step increase ($7,231), his proposed FY2021 base salary is $248,251. The total cost for all CCSD employee “step” increases, as noted in the budget’s Executive Summary on page vi, is $4.1 Million. From a budgeting and reporting perspective, new reporting changes from the IRS require reimbursable expenses (the Superintendent’s his contractual benefits, such as a car allowance, retirement, healthcare, and work travel expenses) be reported as salary expenses. As a result, those reimbursable expenses that total $47,650 and previously were reported and denoted under other Functions elsewhere in prior budgets, now must be added to his reported compensation as salary. We also believe this is a more transparent way of showing the public the total compensation for the Superintendent, rather than dividing it over multiple budget categories.
PERSPECTIVE: The CCSD Superintendent is CEO of Cherokee County’s largest employer, with 5,000 employees. The CCSD Superintendent salary is actually below market for superintendents of similar school districts in Metro Atlanta. (CCSD is in the top 10 largest districts in Georgia, however both superintendents of districts closest in size reported a 2019 base salary of $308,000 and $300,000) and significantly less than CEOs of businesses of the same size. Specific to current Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, he has 35 years of experience in education, holds three education degrees, and is in his fifth year as a superintendent, which exceeds the national average.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that School Board Members are getting a raise in the 2020-21 budget, is that true?
FACT: School Board Members are not getting any raise in compensation at all. School Board Member compensation is determined by local legislation sponsored by Cherokee County’s State Representatives and Senators; in 2017, it was set at $1,000 per month for each of the six Board members and $1,200 per month for the sole Board Chair, and has not been changed. This annual cost is $86,400 for all seven School Board members. New reporting changes from the IRS required this total to be reported in a different part/Function of the budget beginning at the start of the calendar year.
PERSPECTIVE: The compensation levels for Cherokee County’s School Board Members are significantly less than those of similar size school districts.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that the supplemental pay teachers receive for coaching sports or leading programs like band is being cut, is that true?
FACT: No – we are making a change to how frequently these supplements are paid, but all staff will continue to be paid for services provided to students. The payment schedule is the only change for the 2020-21 school year; this is an internal process decision, that can be changed in the future, if needed. This change is needed to avoid having to collect payments made when services were not rendered, for example, if a coach steps back from coaching responsibilities before the season begins or mid-season. If an employee receives this money in advance for services not rendered, it must be repaid, which can cause a hardship.
PERSPECTIVE: We cannot, by law, pay staff for services not rendered. The only exception is if, in an emergency situation, the School Board approves a resolution allowing for pay to continue. This is how CCSD was able to continue to pay staff during the school closures even if they were not actively working, such as school bus drivers and After School Program workers.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that a CCSD employee died from COVID-19 and CCSD is keeping it a secret, is that true?
FACT: CCSD, like any employer, must follow federal privacy laws regarding employees’ health information. The fact that a CCSD employee passed away earlier this month from complications related to COVID-19 was announced during the July 9, 2020 School Board Meeting (the video of which is online). The employee’s name intentionally was not shared publicly and will not be shared publicly due to federal privacy laws. In keeping with standard protocols within our organization for the internal distribution of news about the passing of employees and employees’ immediate family members, we did not disclose the cause of death in the emailed notice as is our practice and in keeping with the family’s wishes. However, in this case, and in all instances when a current employee passes, the employee’s coworkers were aware of the cause of his death. As this specific employee had tested positive for COVID-19, all Department of Public Health (DPH) protocols were immediately followed for notifications to potentially exposed coworkers and required quarantines. The same process for notifications and quarantines will take place should there be future incidents of active employees testing positive; should there be incidents of an employee in a school and/or student testing positive while school is in session, CCSD will follow DPH protocols for notification and quarantines.
PERSPECTIVE: Members of our CCSD family care deeply about their coworkers. Do not mistake our organization’s efforts to protect an employee’s and families’ privacy for a lack of care. It is incredibly unfortunate that citizens in our community would allege otherwise, with some even crossing a line we feel disrespects this man’s memory and his family and friends.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that CCSD deleted all the social media posts about school reopening, is that true?
FACT: Yes – those posts were deleted due to the volume of comments spreading misinformation about the plan and about COVID-19, as well as inappropriate language, libelous comments, defamatory comments, trolling and combative posts between citizens, and otherwise unacceptable behavior. CCSD has posted guidelines as to how users can interact with our social media accounts (posted on our website as well as on the account profiles); and we reserve the right to hide comments, delete comments and block users. CCSD also reserves the right to delete our own posts – there is no law requiring we have a social media presence nor is there a law stating we cannot delete our own posts. The video was uploaded to the CCSD website and is posted on both the meeting agenda webpage and our Open CCSD webpage, where we always post the video from the most recent meeting. The CCSD Reopening of School Plan and the FAQs are on our webpage and remain accessible to the public.
PERSPECTIVE: We appreciate feedback from our community, including criticism and differences of opinion; however, our accounts exist to communicate accurate information – these are not a free-for-all forum for users to post misinformation, make libelous and/or defamatory comments about CCSD employees or students, or attack each other.
7/16/2020 FICTION: I’ve heard that CCSD deleted the video from its last School Board meeting, is that true?
FACT: No; while there were technical issues during the July 9, 2020 meeting with the initial live-streaming platform due to demand, CCSD immediately began a second live stream on Facebook. The Facebook video was downloaded and uploaded onto our website, where it is both posted on the meeting agenda webpage and our Open CCSD webpage, where we always post the video from the most recent meeting. Through the CCSD platform, 3,225 people were able to view the July 9 meeting; and the Facebook live stream had viewership of 2,700 people at its peak.
PERSPECTIVE: CCSD is not required by law to live stream or record School Board meetings nor is it required to post and/or archive videos of its meetings. In recent years, CCSD has recorded these meetings as an additional effort to increase transparency. For the July 9, 2020 School Board meeting, while not legally required, live streaming was added for the first time to allow for greater access, due to the fact seating was limited to meet the Governor’s social-distancing mandate for public meetings. As these mandated measures remain in place, live streaming again will be used for the July 16, 2020 School Board meeting, and CCSD will use a different platform to accommodate for viewers.