Parents express concerns about school plans in Athens

Dozens sign open letter

Parents are writing Clarke County School Superintendent Xernona Thomas and members of the Clarke County School Board, voicing their displeasure with recent changes to plans for the new school year in Athens.

The School Board voted recently to delay by more than a month the scheduled August 3 start of classes, which are now set to begin on September 8. That was followed by a District decision to begin the school year virtually, with no in-classroom instruction.

Following is the letter written to administrators in the Clarke Co School District...

Members of the Clarke County School District Board of Education and the larger Athens community –

We hope you and yours are well and safe during this trying time.

In light of the School Board’s recent decision not only to postpone the school year a month, but also to incorporate virtual online-only classrooms for the foreseeable (and undetermined) future, we felt we needed to make our voices heard during a time when those voices seem routinely ignored. We, the parents — especially the working moms: the executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, bankers, teachers, nurses, cashiers, restaurant workers, the backbone of the economy that drives this community — have watched as decisions that disproportionately affect us and our children are made without any solicitation of our input. We have felt left out of this process from the beginning, and, as is often the case, the burdens and ramifications of these decisions have fallen on the working mothers who are all-too-accustomed to making sacrifices that others are unwilling to.

That needs to change.

We understand the complicated decisions that must be made during this unprecedented time, and we have no interest in compromising the safety and health of our children, our teachers and our community. But rather than clear, resolute leadership and widely understood goals and benchmarks, it seems as if decisions are being postponed, a mere kicking of the can down the road toward some hazy, indeterminate time in the future. This indecision is throwing families’ lives into chaos.

Interim superintendent Dr. Xernona Thomas has said, “We recognize the best place for students to learn is in class, and the district is working to resume in-person instruction as soon as possible.” We are encouraged by this sentiment but concerned with its vagueness.

Every day our children are not in school is a day that they fall farther behind, and we are forced either to pay for extra childcare or miss work entirely, not only suffering severe financial consequences during an already difficult time but often derailing careers women have been working decades to establish. Working mothers who cannot work from home — the cashiers, bus drivers, restaurant workers, janitors, nurses, and other service workers — are forced to choose between two impossible alternatives: abandoning their children, or losing their livelihood. There have been many well-documented studies from the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical and education organizations that have made clear that the social, economic and even medical costs of keeping schools virtual indeterminately are too much to bear. We love the schools of this community, have committed to the promise and opportunity of public school in Athens and have seen the benefits they have provided for our children. But the longer they are out of in-person school, the more we worry that parents, backed into a corner by what can seem like a lack of a commitment to in-person learning as soon as possible, will be forced to make choices outside of the system. This is the last thing anyone involved should want.

We are not asking for a reckless rush to in-person learning. We are asking for the Board of Education to be more explicit, open and accountable about its commitment to returning to in-person education as soon as possible. And we are asking to be part of the process.

We believe there are simple measures the Board of Education to adopt can adopt to ease the anxiety of Athens families. They are:

1. Weekly updates on how the process of moving toward in-person education is progressing. We do not want vague generalizations and long-winded bureaucratic rhetoric on YouTube channels. We want concrete, regular updates.

2. Specific benchmarks that, when met, will lead to ramping up preparation for in-person schooling. These can involve the rate of infection in the county and the university, as well as scientific results from other communities that have opened up in-person schooling.

3. Regular monitoring of surrounding counties that have opened, like Oconee County and Oglethorpe County, to see what can be learned from their experiences, their successes and their setbacks.

4. Clear assurances that there will be no more kick-the-can-down-the-road, cross-your-fingers-and-hope postponements, which only prolong uncertainty and lead to concerns that there is, in fact, no concrete plan at all.

5. A voice in the process. We have watched helplessly as people we do not know and are not involved in the lives of our families and our children have made decisions — or not made decisions — on our behalf, that affect our lives dramatically, without any solicitation of any thoughts we might have on the process. All CCSD stakeholders deserve a transparent process in which they have a voice.

We love this city, this county, this school system, all of it: Teachers, parents, administrators, coaches, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, janitors … in many ways, our public schools are the drivers of this whole community, the place we have chosen to spend our lives, to raise our families, to build our businesses. We only want the best for it. We feel that a clear, explicit, transparent plan for getting our children back to school safely is of the utmost importance. And we ask that we, the parents of Athens, not be forgotten: We ask that we be given a voice.

Signed, Parents of Athens-Clarke County Schoolchildren

Alexa Stevenson Hailey Campbell Genevieve Knox

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Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant hosts Classic City Today, 6-10 weekday mornings on 98.7FM & AM 1340 WGAU in Athens.

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