COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County Schools students are set to begin returning to the classroom for in-person instruction in phases starting Monday, Sept. 21, but one Board of Education member says the district should get them back sooner rather than later.
After commending the school system’s teachers and staff for their efforts over the last few days, District 1 board member Trey Bailey recommended to Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey Tuesday night to scrap the district’s current plan and reopen school buildings for in-person instruction.
“After the first six days of virtual learning, I believe we’ve learned one primary fact, and that is that Newton County Schools System was not ready to go completely virtual. Not all of it our fault, but I don’t feel that we were completely ready,” Bailey said.
He said it was “overwhelmingly obvious” that kids need to be in school because the school system could provide a safer environment for students. He said churches and other local organizations that were trying to help students get connected didn’t have the resources the school does.
“While no one likes continually changing plans, sometimes we must do what is right (and) what is best for our students as soon as we can,” Bailey said.
Bailey recommended the district “abandon” the phase-in approach and set a date one week out to reopen schools for in-person instruction. He also suggested that when the district shifted back to in-person instruction, change students’ options from three to two: unperson or virtual, self-paced. He said having teachers trying to instruct in-person and virtually was “asking too much” of them, especially if some teachers were required to conduct class for both options simultaneously.
Offering only two options would also help with device and hotspot shortages.
As part of his recommendation, Bailey also suggested letting kids who are willing to return to in-person instruction, regardless of the survey initially conducted in July.
“What we have right now is not working,” he said. “Let’s end the computer glitches, the internet outages, the screen freezes and the high-jacked Zoom chats — I’ve got high schoolers. Let’s put an end to parent confusion and frustration. Let’s fix the inequity for students with poor internet service, and let’s stop asking the impossible of our teachers. So the solution to making it less difficult, less contentious, less confusing, less exhausting, less costly, is to accelerate or abandon the phased-in reopening plan in favor of a start date, and then give two learning options — one in person, two virtual self paced — and lastly, let’s get all of our willing students back into the classroom. We have the protocols in place, we have the equipment necessary, we have the resources. Let’s get our kids back in the school so we can provide education excellence for all students.”
Michael Sugg, a parent of Newton County Schools students, voiced similar thoughts to the board under public participation. He said his children were having several issues with Zoom and the schools’ other online platforms.
“So far, my kids have yet to be able to remain in class for an entire day without getting booted out of Zoom or the platform in some shape or form,” Sugg said.
Sugg also said parents of other students have reached out to him and said they were having trouble, too.
Sugg called on the district to find out how many students were able to participate in 100% of their classes, in some of their classes or in none of their classes.
Like Bailey, he also suggested the school system look at modifying the reopening plan to get kids back to in-person instruction as soon as possible and stop “wasting” money and time on infrastructure issues.
“Stop virtual learning and resume in-person learning for all the students immediately,” he said. “I wish the infrastructure was there. You guys aren’t responsible for all the infrastructure … Things you can control is the simplicity of getting kids back in person. That’s what you can do.”
No actions were taken by the superintendent after Bailey’s and Sugg’s comments, but before Bailey made his recommendations, Fuhrey said she and other administrators had explored the possibility of accelerating the reopening plan, but many principals across the district didn’t think it was a good idea. She said “the overwhelming majority” of principals did not want to make changes.
“They felt the current plan gave them ample time to get everyone in place and then make any adjustments if necessary,” she said.