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NHS student body president voices COVID concerns to BOE
Pitches for virtual learning following extended breaks, other resolutions to ensure safety
Zayvion Sheppard
Zayvion Sheppard, student body president at Newton High School, addresses the county school board Tuesday night. - photo by Courtesy of Newton County School System

COVINGTON, Ga. — Zayvion Sheppard said his role as Newton High School’s student body president was to be “chief representative” of his classmates, and that’s why he took time to voice apparent concerns among students and teachers during the Board of Education’s work session Tuesday night.

Sheppard, who is a senior student at Newton, told board members that he had been approached in recent weeks by his peers and teachers, too, about a variety of issues at the school concerning the district’s response to COVID.

“And, I must admit, I join them in their concern and frustration,” he said.

What he described as ongoing issues included “cluttered and crowded” hallways, “teachers and classmates are passing and contracting this virus” and “our bathrooms do not have soap, or in some cases, soap dispensers.” 

“All the while,” Sheppard said. “Students are expected to retain information from class, and teachers are expected to educate us while carrying these new additional burdens created by the pandemic.”

Sheppard acknowledged previous steps taken by the board in response to the novel virus, recalling the issuance of 1:1 technology and internet hotspots, sharing and regularly updating a weekly dashboard of COVID cases and installing hand sanitizing stations at area schools.

“All of these steps are important and essential, and we appreciate the leadership you all have demonstrated so far,” Sheppard said. “Still, we feel there is more that can be done.

“Understand that I do not come from a place of malice, but instead, a place of great aggravation and disappointment,” he added. “There are countless safe and effective initiatives that this board can implement to keep us safe at school. I know of no student nor teacher that envies staring at Zoom screens all year. Likewise, I know of no student nor teacher who wants to see themselves or their loved ones put in harm’s way.”

Sheppard then proposed the board to “institute virtual learning for the first five days following scheduled breaks.”

“This means that the week after our mid-winter break and spring break would be completely virtual,” he said. “This is not only a practical implementation, but one based on common sense. Allowing a week of virtual instruction after a break will allow symptoms to become evident in students and faculty who have been exposed to this virus over the break.”

The student also asked the board to consider providing students the option of reverting to virtual learning if there were “credible 


“Every single day after I leave the congested halls of Newton High School, I, like all of you, go home to my family,” Sheppard said. “I live with my 73-year-old grandmother who suffers from asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). My greatest fear is bringing home this virus and passing it on to her. And the sad thing is, I’m not the only one who has that fear. Multiple students in my school and in this county live in multi-generational homes, just like me, and carry the same exact burden and fear as I do. Giving these students the option of virtual instruction would alleviate that burden.”

Sheppard made brief mention of several other ideas he wanted the board to consider, which included keeping a mask mandate in effect for the remainder of the school year; creating a “hybrid learning schedule” that would consist of both virtual and in-person days; and pushing for voluntary testing and allowing schools and student governments to incentivize students who engage in voluntary testing; among others.

The district is currently requiring masks be worn by students and staff in response to the latest rise in local cases. Late December, district officials announced face coverings would be mandated when students returned from winter break Jan. 4. Fuhrey called the mandate “temporary” at the time. The mandate was expected to be lifted when “the number of positive cases decrease in our community.” 

The district also offers weekly COVID-19 testing for students and staff, but it is not required.

“I am committed to working with this body to improving our current response to this pandemic,” Sheppard concluded. “We must never accept anything as perfect. There is always something to be done. Now is the time for us to work together to make these changes happen and to make learning a safer experience for all students and teachers of Newton County School System. I am eager and will do everything in my power to ensure that this is not the ending of a one-sided monologue, rather the beginning of a constructive dialogue.”

Following Sheppard’s address, District 5 board member and chairperson Abigail Coggin said she appreciated his willingness to bring his concerns and ideas to the board. Coggin found the address “informative” and wished other students would follow Sheppard’s lead, she said.

District 3 board member Shakila Henderson-Baker commended Sheppard for his “strength and courage” to voice his and others’ thoughts to the board.

“I’ve watched Zayvion grow in high school,” she said. “I met Zayvion at high school. He’s going to be a fellow political science degree person. But Zayvion, what you just did deserves an applause, really. For a high school student to have the strength and courage to reach out to his student body — he is the executive president of the entire student body at Newton High School, so they trust Zayvion to make decisions. But to reach out to them — not only the students but the teachers and ask them for opinions, and the way you eloquently said that, and spelled out even resolutions or solutions — because a lot of people comment all for complaints as adults, but to hear a student not only offer, ‘these are my concerns…but here are some of the solutions to my concerns’ is actually incredible, and that’s the kind of rigorous thinkers that we want in our school system and love to produce.”

Eddie Johnson, who represents District 2 on the board, echoed Henderson-Baker’s sentiments and said he would assist Sheppard in resolving the noted concerns.

“I would just like to personally commit to you my service and time to work with you directly to help move these issues along,” Johnson said.

Fuhrey did not comment on Sheppard’s address during the meeting.