A parent in the 1,000-member strong Facebook Group Safety First Reopening Schools has called for a protest early on Wednesday morning at the administrative offices of Oconee County Schools.
The purpose of the protest is to get the school system to postpone the date by which parents have to select either the in-person or distance/digital learning option from Wednesday to July 20 and to get the system to require students who attend classes in-person to wear masks.
Christian Sanchez, who issued the call for the protest to the Facebook group on Monday, said she also wants the school system to answer a long list of questions about the Aug. 5 opening of the county’s schools.
Safety First Reopening Schools first emerged into the public on July 6 when it sent a letter to members of the Board of Education and School Superintendent Jason Branch asking them to respond to a list of questions and delay the decision date to July 20.
Andrea Wellnitz, who organized the group, said on Monday that the landing page Safety First Reopening Schools now has three subgroups.
The first of these groups, using the name Safety First Reopening Schools, shares information about COVID-19 and about how schools can and should reopen. It has 909 members.
The second group is called Safety First Remote Learning and is designed to help parents who are opting to keep their children out of school because of the pandemic. This group has 133 members.
The final group, Safety First Special Needs Group, is to help parents of children with special educational needs. The Special Needs Group has 25 members.
Sanchez said she wants other parents to meet at 7:45 a.m. on Wednesday in front of the administrative building on School Street in Watkinsville to get organized.
The goal, she said, is to have administrators “as they come into the building see us.”
The protest is planned to end at 9 a.m., she said.
Sanchez sent out her post about 2 p.m., and she told me when we talked on the phone just before 6 p.m. on Monday that 11 people had responded and indicated they planned to attend.
Wellnitz sent me Sanchez’ post about the protest at 4:20.m., but Wellnitz got the name wrong. When Sanchez and I spoke on the phone she didn’t know who Wellnitz was, saying simply that one of the moderators had asked her to call me.
Sanchez has a child in Malcom Bridge Elementary School.
Safety First Reopening Schools
After Safety First Reopening Schools sent its letter to the Board of Education on July 6, I tried to learn something about the group.
I contacted Wellnitz, whom I knew was one of the organizers of the letter.
Wellnitz ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for the Board of Education in 2018, is active in the North Oconee Rotary, and is one of the founders of Oconee Progressives.
When we spoke on the phone on July 11, I suggested we do a Zoom interview.
Wellnitz and Leah Trotter, active in the Safety First Special Needs Group, joined me on Zoom at 12:30 p.m. on Monday
We had hoped to be joined by someone from the Safety First Remote Learning Group, but that didn’t materialize.
Reason For Group
“Why I started this group, to begin with, really, is because I had so many questions,” Wellnitz said. “I had a lot of questions I just didn’t have answers to.”
Wellnitz said she invited people to join the group, “And I just started posing questions for people. What do you need to know? What do you want to know from Oconee County Schools?
“What more information do you want? What questions do you have for them? There was a whole lot of questions,” she said.
“Initially a lot of the questions were about the learning modules that were available,” Wellnitz said, but the questions branched out from there.
Wellnitz has two daughters at North Oconee High School.
“My hopes are that we can talk to one another and advocate for our children together,” Trotter said about the special needs group. “There are a lot of questions that I know the preschool moms have.”
The goal, she said, is to “just kind of support and help each other through this.”
“It is super helpful in that way to bounce ideas off one another and see from other people what their questions are.”
Trotter has a special needs child and said she has been very pleased with the services the school system has provided.
She has another child enrolled at Oconee Primary School for the coming year.
Remote Learning Group
“I would see the remote learning group as more of a networking group than anything,” Wellnitz said.
The group exchanges information and tries to get answers to questions about what is possible, she said.
“But really it seems like what a lot of people are doing is I want to find other people to network with that are on the same grade level as my kids so that we can maybe form a learning pod.”
At some point, those parents with the same interest might consider “hiring an instructor to look at certain subjects with our small learning pod,” she said.
Concern About Educators
Wellnitz ended the hour-long session by turning attention to the teachers.
“I really feel like their voice is being lost in this whole process,” she said.
“That’s an oversight,” she added.
“And I want to make sure that when we have discussions about keeping our students and our kids safe we also need to have discussions about how we keep our educators safe.
“And I feel like that’s getting left out of the discussion a lot, and that worries me,” she said.
I recorded the video below from the interview.
We had scheduled an hour for the session, but we used up some time at the beginning waiting for someone from the Remote Learning Group to join us and just chatting.
We also had some technical difficulties with Trotter’s audio.
I edited out of the video a section where Trotter’s voice broke up almost entirely.
The video below runs just less than 30 minutes.