COVINGTON, Ga. - On Monday, Jan. 29, the Newton County School System Board of Education held a special called meeting to discuss solutions for the recent inclement weather that has disrupted student attendance from Jan. 17-19.
Earlier in the school year, documents were sent home to parents that indicated all days of the February break were to be eligible for make-up days.
“I thought it would be a good idea to send out a survey that asked parents which days they thought would be best spent with school in session,” Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey said. “Some parents agreed that Monday, Febr. 19, and Tuesday, Feb. 20, would be best while others decided on the following Thursday and Friday.”
The survey revealed that conflicting information had been circulated, both in the employee calendar and the calendar that was posted on the school website, confusing staff members and parents alike.
“Staff members may have already made plans for their time off based upon the information they got from their calendars, which didn’t synchronize with student calendars, and some parents thought that school would be in session Feb. 19 and 20, while other parents believed students would be in session Feb. 22 and 23.”
There was a host of confusing and problematic circumstances surrounding the make-up days because of that conflicting information.
Fuhrey met with school leaders in an effort to reach a decision on how to best handle the issue.
“We want our children to have as much time with our teachers as possible,” Fuhrey said. “I believe fully that there is no substitution for face-to-face interaction between our teachers and students. However, this particular situation presented its own circumstances that would cause teachers to not be at school, students to not be at school, or both.”
Fuhrey assembled a team of principals, assistant principles, staff members, directors and instructional coaches together last week and requested their viewpoints around the following scenarios: one scenario would be that all the days are waived with the exception of one extended early release day; second, to have the students report to school Feb. 22 and 23; third, to have students report to school the 19 and 20; lastly, to implement an independent learning model that caters to each grade span.
Because of the extenuating circumstances, there was a shared an interest in the independent learning model, as it was seen to be a solution that would respect parents, teachers and students alike; students would be sent home with work that would reinforce areas of needed improvement for each grade span. Last Thursday, the principals met with their groups and devised an independent learning plan catered to each grade span.
Fuhrey assured that students who do not have access to technology were considered.
“None of the plans are dependent upon any use of technology,” she said. “Students will be given paperwork that articulates the assignments.”
In addition, the same assignments will be posted on the campus website, though Internet access is not necessary for students who may not have it.
Shakila Henderson-Baker expressed concerns regarding the options.
“The mission of the school system is to provide educational excellence for all students. In this situation, I feel that numbers matter – 15-25 percent of adults in Newton County do not have a high school diploma or a GED, so if a child is given an assignment to take home, they will be unable to receive the assistance they need to fully grasp the material,” she said.
She also expressed concerns surrounding the children where English is a second language, presenting a language barrier that may compromise access to instructional quality.
“The decision to cancel school is a huge one. It’s more than just safety, it’s a matter of quality instruction,” Trey Bailey said. He added that he trusts that administrators took into account the county demographics surrounding education and language barriers among students’ families.
“Ultimately, this boils down to a board decision,” Fuhrey said. “I will have a second recommendation in my pocket in the event that we struggle with the first one. Because we were at fault for the spread of misinformation, we wish to be respectful to the needs of all families, teachers, and school leaders. We will do better in the future to monitor the accuracy of information that is sent out.”
In final action, the Board voted 3-2 to employ the independent learning model.