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.
I saw a post on social media that the School Board is raising taxes ... is that true?
No. The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday night (May 20) reviewed the proposed budget for next school year, which calls for a reduction in the tax rate for all property owners and well-deserved pay increases for teachers and support staff.
The proposed 1.5 mills decrease in the tax rate is the first reduction proposed since 2014 and has been recommended by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower in light of rising home values.
“We do not determine property values – those are driven by the market and set by the county tax assessor’s office. We do control the school district’s millage rate, which is what property values are multiplied by to determine your tax bill,” he said. “We know homeowners are receiving their assessments this week, and the sticker shock is real, as home values are significantly up here. Cherokee County, with our great schools and safe community, is a very desirable place to live. Based on the budget I’ve proposed, your actual tax bill that you receive later this year will be lower due to a lower millage rate.”
The county tax assessor’s office, which sets property values, estimates the value of all property in the county (known as the tax digest) has increased by approximately 20% this year due to rising home values. As a result, Dr. Hightower has proposed reducing the millage rate by 1.5 mills. Due to timing issues for budget approval, the school district must take into account appeals to property values that will be filed and addressed by the tax assessor’s office and its board over the coming months, which will reduce the digest before it is finalized later this year. Citizens age 62 and older can file with the tax assessor’s office for an exemption from school taxes up to $446,700 of fair market value on their home.
The School Board and the public now can review the budget, which is posted online here, with three public hearings scheduled prior to the June 16 vote to approve the budget and property tax millage rate. The proposed total budget of $706 Million includes the $471 Million day-to-day operating budget, new school construction, bond debt retirement, School Nutrition and grants. As a companion to the budget, CCSD annually publishes Financial Facts, a report that shares important news from the budget with employees, parents and taxpayers. Read the new edition online here.
Dr. Hightower said, through long-term budget forecasting, he and his staff determined the millage rate reduction could withstand a market correction, but it would not be financially responsible to reduce it further this year. If the economic trends remain positive, he added, the School Board could be in the position to consider another millage rate reduction in 2023.
In addition to reducing the millage rate, the budget also calls for shifting .25 of the total mills from daily operating expenses to debt service reduction. This allows the school district to reduce the need for long-term debt for capital outlay projects and instead use Education SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) revenue. Additionally, this allows the school district to pay off construction debt faster, reducing interest costs to taxpayers. Last month, the School Board was able to retire some of its school construction bonds 11 years early, avoiding $7.8 million in interest payments.
The proposed millage rate reduction still leaves the school district with enough revenue to fund: increases to teacher and staff pay through “step” longevity raises, associated employer costs like FICA and Medicare for the Governor’s $2,000 pay raise for teachers taking effect in July and, in keeping with the school district’s practice of extending such raises to all employees, 2% cost of living raises and salary scale changes to provide parity, and increased teacher allotments to further lower class size. Pay rates for temporary workers including substitutes that were established as a pandemic relief measure will become permanent for next school year.
I saw a post on social media about a middle/high school book containing sexual references that is supposedly available in my child’s elementary school … is that real?
No. Posts are circulating on social media that make erroneous claims about books in CCSD catalogs. The third-party online media center catalog system mistakenly showed some high school books or high/middle school books as being available in two CCSD elementary schools. These listings were only for electronic/digital copies of the books, but we have confirmed that NO electronic/digital copies (or print copies) of the book are available or have ever been available to CCSD elementary school students; had an elementary student tried to access a middle/high school e-book, the system would have blocked access due to the student being in elementary grades. Thanks to the social media posts, we discovered the error in the online system that mistakenly showed these books as being in the catalog. We have confirmed that CCSD elementary school students were never able to access these electronic/digital copies. Our media specialists have worked to remove these inaccurate listings from the online system and check for others. If you are concerned about whether a book is available in your child’s school, rather than believing posts on social media, please consider calling the media specialist at your child’s school. She or he will be happy to assist you.
I saw a post on social media about a CCSD anonymous reporting form … is this real?
No. A social media post, made by a political group and shared by its candidates and supporters, advertised a CCSD anonymous reporting form as illustrated in the image above. This is NOT a CCSD form. This is data mining by the political group. CCSD offers two anonymous reporting forms: the Ask CCSD Helpdesk and Vector Alert (formerly SafeSchools Alert). Vector Alert is for any non-emergency school safety concern, and reports are received by CCSD School Police; you should continue to call 911 for emergencies. Ask CCSD Helpdesk is for any other non-emergency concerns, and messages are received by CCSD Communications. Neither of these forms records any personal information unless you choose to enter it into the form.
I saw a post on social media claiming that CCSD is dropping in rankings for outstanding schools … is that real?
No. There are many sources for school rankings/ratings that are unreliable due to misuse of data, political influence and/or a company’s structure that awards better scores to schools and school districts that pay for its services. Reliable measures of a school district’s success include consistent and/or increasing graduation rates, SAT scores, ACT scores and the percentage of students who need remedial education at the college level according to the university system. Reliable sources of information include the Georgia Department of Education, The College Board and the University System of Georgia. Even when reviewing a reliable source, it’s important to read footnotes and consider source data … for example, students were not required to take the Georgia Milestones during the pandemic, so that data and all rankings/ratings that use that data, are not reliable. If a source offers schools/school districts to pay for marketing services, such as Niche, those ratings should be viewed accordingly. CCSD does not pay any such companies to improve its rankings/ratings; even without such payment, CCSD does have an overall score of A- from Niche. We regularly post CCSD Fast Facts on our website and social media, as pictured above, to share reliable data including scores and rankings; these posts are archived online here.
I saw a post on social media about CCSD teaching CRT and using an example of a lesson called “Social Awareness” for Grade 12 from December … is this real?
No. There is no teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT), under that name or any other name in CCSD schools. There are three levels of protection to prohibit such teaching: the Cherokee County School Board in May 2021 approved a resolution prohibiting teaching CRT, which was followed by the State Board of Education approving a resolution, which was followed by the Georgia General Assembly passing a state law that is being signed into effect today (April 28, 2022) by Governor Brian Kemp. As part of CCSD’s CCSDcares initiative, students participate in a brief character education lesson twice a month in homeroom, and those lessons are posted on the CCSD website. Character education, including the Word of the Week-type lessons, long have been a part of Georgia public schools since required beginning in 1997 by the State Legislature (OCGA 20-2-145). The #CCSDcares hashtag has been in use in CCSD since 2019, and earlier this year, the name was adopted to encompass this program. Screenshots, as pictured above, from a lesson that is not approved for use in CCSD are being shared on social media by School Board candidates and their supporters. The lesson being shared on social media was developed for possible use during last school year, prior to the School Board resolution. An administrator at one high school mistakenly sent this lesson, which had not been approved, to teachers for use in December 2021. That employee error was addressed as soon as it was brought to CCSD’s attention. Here is a copy of the email that was shared with parents who had concerns.
I saw a post on social media about pornography being in CCSD high schools … is this real? Ok
No. Please see the longer post below that clearly explains the false claims being made about pornography and CCSD. Additionally, social media posts now being circulated by School Board candidates and supporters falsely imply that an illustrated version of the acclaimed 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is in all CCSD high schools. The 1985 novel, which is NOT illustrated, is in CCSD high school media centers for optional check-out by high school students (both Amazon and Lexile rate the book as appropriate for ages 14-18). The 2019 illustrated version, as pictured above, is available in only one CCSD high school media center (River Ridge High School); it is noteworthy to point out that this book has not yet been checked out by anyone. Neither the 1985 novel version, which has no illustrations, nor the 2019 illustrated version have been the subject of any book challenges filed by any CCSD parents or any other Cherokee County citizens.
Are CCSD teachers and media specialists forcing students to read “pornography” for class assignments and allowing children to check “pornography” out of school media centers?
No. Please be advised that serious misinformation about CCSD, books and book banning is being circulated on social media and political websites. This misinformation alleges that teachers and media specialists are forcing students to read “pornography” for class assignments and allowing children to check “pornography” out of school media centers. These are false claims. Please also be advised that this issue is not on the agenda for the April 2022 School Board meeting despite false claims otherwise. The School Board has no plans to take any action at the meeting in regard to books or policies related to books.
Books are selected for use in CCSD classes and for access in school media centers by certified teachers and library media specialists. They select books that have educational value and are age appropriate. Their supervisors, both principals at the school level and curriculum staff who serve in the district’s central office, all are longtime certified teachers and media specialists who now serve in administration roles. These teachers, media specialists and administrators care deeply about the students we serve – both their education and their overall well-being.
It is CCSD’s practice that any teacher who requires the reading of a novel as part of any class must offer students a choice of novels and also must honor a parent’s request for an alternative book or assignment for their child. Students and parents are notified in advance of the novels to be read in a class to allow for parent review and requesting alternate assignments.
Per School Board Policy, all Cherokee County citizens, including CCSD parents, have the right to challenge the use of a book in CCSD classes or the inclusion of a book in CCSD school media centers. It is a simple process that begins with talking with the school’s Principal. If the concern is not alleviated at that level, you can file an official challenge, which only requires completion of a simple form that asks questions such as whether you read the book and what concerns you have about the book.
The committee that reviews book challenges is made up of students, parents, teachers, media specialists and administrators. When they receive a challenge, the committee members read the book, discuss it and make a recommendation together to the Superintendent; the process takes no more than three weeks. Recommendations made by the committee are enforced districtwide to ensure consistency in all media centers.
So far this year, CCSD has received challenges to 14 books, two of which are not in any CCSD schools. The challenges were made by a total of seven citizens; of those, four are not CCSD parents. The committee, which was doubled in size and split into two committees to allow for two books to be reviewed at the same time, has reviewed more than half of these books already; the remainder are scheduled to be completed by the end of the school year. One of the challenges has resulted in a book being removed from general circulation in high school media centers to instead be available only with a counselor referral and parent permission. None of the challengers have filed any appeal. (A chart of this year's book challenges and the review status is online here and will be regularly updated; here is a 26-year history of challenged materials for perspective.)
Misinformation also is being circulated about a specific book that a member of the public read from at the School Board’s March 17, 2022 meeting that the speaker described as “pornography” and “illegal.” The book, “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, is only available in high school media centers for optional check-out by students. It is not pornography nor is it illegal; it is a critically acclaimed book about slavery. The book is nationally recommended for high school students who hope to pass Advanced Placement (AP) English exams to earn college credit. It is not required reading to pass any CCSD classes. The speaker, who has not filed a challenge to any books, additionally submitted a list of 225 books to the School Board, via email on March 16, 2022, that she believes should be removed from CCSD schools; similar lists are being circulated nationally by political and special interest groups, but it is important to note that the majority of these books (123 of the 225) are not available in any CCSD schools.
The School Board stopped the speaker from reading from “Homegoing” because it is a high school-level book, and children younger than high school age have access to the meeting video. CCSD uses a YouTube channel for livestreaming School Board meetings, with a special “child friendly” setting so that YouTube will not place inappropriate ads in any videos on the channel. To avoid the inclusion of these ads, we must ensure the channel’s videos are appropriate for all ages. Additionally, CCSD’s website, where School Board meeting videos are posted the day after the meeting, is used by the majority of CCSD students daily to access numerous online learning resources including Canvas. As a result, we must ensure the CCSD website content is appropriate for all ages.
If you, as a parent, are ever unsure about the content of a novel your child is assigned to read or brings home from the media center, we make the following suggestions. Please contact your child’s teacher if you have questions about an assigned novel, as they will be happy to help you and, if you would like, provide an alternate assignment. Please contact your child’s media specialist if you have questions about a book they have checked out, as they will be happy to help you and, if you would like, can restrict your child from checking out books. Please consider having a conversation with your child about media center use … if you are concerned your child may choose a book you don’t approve of, ask your child to bring it home before they read it. If you do not have time to read a book your child checks out from the media center or an assigned novel and/or do not want to have a conversation with the teacher or media specialist , a website that provides parent-focused reviews, such as Lexile Find a Book (https://hub.lexile.com/find-a-book/search) or Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/), may be helpful to you.
The School Board and Superintendent are dedicated to providing the best education possible to every student, strong stewardship of the resources entrusted to them and effective governance, which includes transparency. We hope that this information has provided you greater insight as to what is occurring locally in regard to the national issue of book banning.
Does the Superintendent or School Board plan to privatize bus drivers or School Nutrition?
No. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower has no plans to ask the School Board to privatize bus drivers or School Nutrition or any other part of CCSD operations. The School Board also has had no discussions about privatizing these services.
The idea of possibly privatizing these services was brought up by a candidate who is running for School Board during a Cherokee County Republican Party candidates’ forum on March 21, 2022 and then moderators at the forums on March 22, 28 and 29 asked the other candidates their opinion on the issue. Videos from these events are available on the Cherokee County Republican Party’s Facebook page.
It also has been falsely stated that Dr. Hightower proposed privatization of custodial services in 2013. That recommendation was not made by Dr. Hightower; he did not begin serving as Superintendent until 2016.
Is CCSD vaccinating children at school?
NO! Please be advised that false rumors are deliberately being spread in our community about CCSD and COVID-19 vaccinations. CCSD is NOT holding ANY COVID-19 vaccination events for students at our schools or elsewhere. CCSD is partnering with the Cherokee County Health Department to offer COVID-19 vaccination boosters to employees, if they want to receive one, at the health department’s clinics on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. More than 1,800 employees have requested an appointment, which is why that day is a Digital Learning Day for all students. CCSD does host annual flu vaccine clinics at schools for employees, if they want to receive one, as we have for more than a decade. CCSD does NOT administer ANY vaccines to students at our schools or elsewhere. It is deeply troubling that anyone in our community would deliberately spread misinformation and lies and even more upsetting that they appear to be doing so for political and/or personal financial gain.
Panorama SEL Survey
2/17/2022: CCSD announced the Panorama survey will not be used for next school year. Learn more here.
Does the Panorama SEL survey include open-ended questions?
No. The Panorama Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) survey used by CCSD for students in Grades 4-12 does not include open-ended questions; it uses scale responses for students to self-assess their core SEL competencies of self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness. A set of sample questions is posted online here.
Is my child’s information shared outside of CCSD?
No. CCSD does not share individual student responses externally; only aggregate data from the results is used for external presentations by CCSD, such as in annual SEL initiative reports presented to the School Board. Panorama does not have access to any data other than the survey responses, which only include a CCSD student ID number; Panorama is not provided with students’ names or other personal information. CCSD does not use Panorama curriculum or resources other than the Panorama SEL survey. Parents are given the opportunity to opt their children out of participation if they have any concerns about this optional survey (less than 2% of students opted out of the survey this year).
Is this survey data used against my child?
No. The survey results are used by CCSD to support students and to review our SEL initiative for continuous improvement. Parents, teachers and counselors, as part of each student’s support teams, have access to the student’s perspectives in order to support the student.