The Cherokee County School Board at its called meeting tonight unanimously approved the Superintendent’s recommended CCSD Reopening of School Plan, which calls for both the return to schools for traditional learning and the launch of an improved digital learning choice.
While Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower is authorized to reopen schools as a function of daily operations, School Board Chair Kyla Cromer called the meeting in order for the School Board to publicly take an official vote on the plan.
“I’ve heard overwhelming support for the decision,” Ms. Cromer said, adding that the plan is “fluid” and may change if the state of public health shifts and any mandates are issued. “The teachers I’ve heard from are ready.”
In a first for the School Board, the meeting was held not only in person, but also streamed live online; interest in the live stream overwhelmed CCSD’s system within the first 30 minutes, leading staff to then begin streaming the meeting live on Facebook. Due to the Governor’s state of emergency, in order to allow citizen attendance, seats were distanced which reduced capacity; to increase transparency, Dr. Hightower directed his technology staff to set up the streaming option. While the initial seating capacity was estimated at only 80 with these measures, staff found space to add 10 more seats for the public, for a total of 90. Sixty of those seats were filled, with half in attendance signing up to speak; the speakers argued both for and against the plan, with the majority of the discussion focused on whether masks should be mandated. School Board members and Dr. Hightower, as a standard practice, do not respond to comments by public speakers, but Ms. Cromer thanked them for sharing their opinions.
The approved CCSD Reopening of School Plan calls for the school year to begin on Aug. 3, with all campuses open for Traditional In-Person learning for all grades; parents also have the option to instead enroll their child in CCSD’s Digital Learning program. Parents who choose to keep their child home to participate in Digital Learning are required by 5 p.m. Friday, July 17, to complete a Digital Learning Commitment Form to commit to the program from Aug. 3-Oct. 9 for elementary students; and from Aug. 3-Dec. 18 for middle and high school students.
During the meeting, Dr. Hightower shared a brief presentation on the plan, as he explained how community input, the State’s guidance to school districts and the current state of public health in Cherokee County, influenced his decision-making process. The Superintendent appointed two committees – one made up of teachers and staff, and one made up of parents, partners and staff – to provide feedback. Dr. Hightower also emphasized how the plan will continue to change as needed, noting his decision today to purchase water bottle filling stations to replace water fountains in all CCSD schools, based on a suggestion by School Board member Patsy Jordan, a retired CCSD teacher.
School Board member Clark Menard, before casting his vote of support, shared that his decision was influenced by the state of public health in our community and how our community has been social distancing.
“State guidance suggests that this is a system-by-system decision and that what is ‘right’ for one community may not be ‘right’ for another. As someone who feels the body of government closest to the people is the most accessible and the most likely to represent the community, I strongly agree with this,” said Mr. Menard, whose youngest daughter is a CCSD high school student. “What is happening in Gwinnett is not the same as what is happening in Cherokee.”
School Board member Mike Chapman, whose wife is a CCSD teacher, echoed Mr. Menard’s statement, adding that he believes in the community’s ability to succeed. “It’s going to take everyone working together to make this happen.”
School Board Vice Chair Kelly Poole spoke during the meeting about the importance of how “parents and educators set the tone for the year.”
“Kids watch our reactions, and they will respond accordingly,” said Ms. Poole, whose youngest child will graduate from CCSD this month. “Our children and students do not need to add our worries to their own.”
Following the meeting, Dr. Hightower said, as he asked the CCSD community to be flexible and extend grace and patience when schools closed in March with a day’s notice and teaching and learning shifted entirely online, he again is asking everyone to keep that mindset.
“Our plan truly is ‘our’ plan, as we asked representatives of the different parts of our CCSD family for feedback, and we listened to their input,” Dr. Hightower said. “Together, we have done our best to offer parents a choice for their children that we believe we can carry out with fidelity.”
“We know this plan isn’t perfect, and we know it won’t please everyone – that is an impossible task,” he said. “We know there are parents, students, teachers and staff who are worried, and I understand that – we are living through a pandemic. We may start up school and then have to quarantine a class or a school or multiple schools. The Governor may mandate masks or he may shut us down. This school year will be unlike any other any of us have ever experienced. Challenges ahead of us in life always are unknown, but we can’t let whataboutism keep us from developing a plan and carrying out our mission of educating kids.”
The full reopening plan, which outlines operations and the State’s guidance to schools districts, is online at https://bit.ly/CCSDplan20, along with a Reopening of School FAQs webpage at https://bit.ly/CCSDfaqs20, which will be continuously updated by CCSD staff as new information becomes available; and the Digital Learning Commitment Form at https://bit.ly/CCSDdlcommit20.
During its meeting tonight, the School Board also unanimously voted to ratify the Superintendent’s graduation ceremonies plan announced on Saturday and posted online at https://bit.ly/CCSDgradplan20.
The School Board’s next meeting is its regularly scheduled monthly meeting on July 16, when it will consider approval of the Superintendent’s recommended annual budget.