COVINGTON, Ga. — As the Newton County Schools Board of Education convened for a work session Tuesday night, a crowd of protesters gathered outside to petition for in-person instruction.
Friday, Aug. 7, the board revised its reopening plan to remove the in-person instruction option and push the start date for students to Sept. 8 with only virtual instruction options.
During the meeting, Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey spoke of the change and reminded the community it is temporary.
“[In-person instruction] is the goal. It’s never not been the goal,” she said. “It’s the best way to educate children. And so, that’s what I’m doing. Lifting rocks. Moving mountains. Talking to folks. Waiting for our teachers to get back — our veteran teachers — to return to the buildings. I’ve heard from some of our teachers who are interested in working directly with students, and I want to try to help them make that happen. But I always have to put the health and safety first.
“We’re going to get there. We’re going to open our schools. I don’t have any doubt in my mind about that,” Fuhrey continued. “But if we want for in-person instruction to take place … we must bring the case numbers and the positivity rates, ER visits — all of those pieces — down."
The superintendent challenged the community to practice social distancing, wash hands and wear masks, saying it would be the only way to make in-person instruction happen sooner rather than later. But Fuhrey said she and other administrators have driven around the county and do not see many people adhering to health and safety guidelines.
As of Wednesday, there have been 402 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Newton County within the last two weeks. Since the pandemic began, there have been 1,865 cases confirmed, 40 deaths confirmed and 196 hospitalizations confirmed across the county.
The state’s cumulative COVID-19 case total is 222,588. There have been 4,351 deaths and 21,031 hospitalizations.
If Newton County’s positivity rate shows greater decline over the next few weeks, Fuhrey alluded that in-person instruction options would be put back on the table.
“As I said when we had the [instruction] options, that if the conditions warrant a pivot to another action, then I would take that action,” Fuhrey said. “Same thing in this situation. If the conditions warrant a pivot, we will pivot and do what we need to do. And I just want to assure people in the community that this is, for me, temporary as we work to drive down the numbers of positive cases in our community.”
Before Fuhrey’s comments, board member Trey Bailey asked administrators how students with Individualized Education Programs (IEP) or special needs would continue being supported. He wanted to make sure they weren’t going to be “left behind.”
Chief Academic Officer Benjamin Roundtree said if administrators deemed a change to IEP services was needed, the change would be made; however, changes haven’t been needed.
He said that was why parents of students with an IEP were not being contacted, because no significant changes to the service have been made. The only change is where the services will take place, Roundtree said.
If parents feel changes are needed for their students’ IEP or have any other concerns, Roundtree encouraged them to email Special Education Director Brooke Ramsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other business, the board reviewed agenda items for the next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 18, and approved a handful of business items.
Approved business items included:
- The purchase of 5.818 acres of property for $70,177, as recommended by the superintendent. According to documents provided, the property is “required for the replacement high school facility.” The property includes the tract of parcel of land lying and being in Newton County and being a part of that property deeded to East Newton Baptist Church, Inc.
- The purchase of Zoom video, web conferencing software needed for the school system from CDW-G of Vernon Hills, Illinois, in the amount of $35,572 to be paid for from the FY 2021 General Fund. The software architecture can be used to replace the school system’s legacy hardware conference rooms at about 1/9th of the price, administrators said, while requiring no ongoing maintenance costs as do hardware defined conferences rooms. Administrators said the software requires less dedicated bandwidth than other video/web conferencing solutions.
- The purchase of Chromebooks needed for select schools from Dell Marketing L.P. of Round Rock, Texas, in the amount of $360,525. Administrators said the purchase brings the system closer to the 1:1 Chromebook to student ratio.
- The purchase of hand sanitizer and dispensers needed for the school system from Buckeye Cleaning Centers of Norcross for approximately $70,000. The purchase was made to ensure the school system has plenty of hand sanitizer on hand and avoid a potential shortage when students return to school.
- The superintendent’s personnel recommendations previously discussed in an executive session.