Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Oconee County Schools Has Some Late Shift To Distance Learning Option As In-Person Instruction Begins

***School Board Briefed On Opening Plans***

The number of students selecting the distance learning/digital option rather than in-person instruction increased by 165 in last two weeks before school started on Wednesday, Meri Blackburn told the members of Oconee County School Board earlier this week.

Blackburn said that the final figures were 1,111 students (13.4 percent) deciding not to attend in-person classes while 7,167 chose the in-person option.

Blackburn, director of Secondary Education for Oconee County Schools, was giving the student services report to the Board at its work session on Monday.

The number of students deciding not to attend classes in-person was an increase of 165 over the figures that Claire Buck, chief academic officer for the Oconee County Schools, had given the Board at its Aug. 20 meeting, Blackburn said.

The entire work session of the Board on Monday was devoted to a discussion of procedures in place for the launch of the school year Wednesday.

“We are excited to welcome those students back,” Branch said in an upbeat report on the beginning of the school year at the start of the session.

“We had a very successful first day in Oconee County Schools,” Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, said in an email message at the end of the school day on Wednesday.

More on First Day

Jimenez said in her email message at 2:32 on Wednesday that “The majority of students participated in the district's ‘Mask Up, Oconee’ initiative.

LeDuff Before Board 8/3/2020

“Administrators, support staff, and teachers did a great job reinforcing social distancing and encouraging frequent hand sanitizing,” she continued.

“Students and teachers were excited to be back, and we look forward to seeing them again tomorrow,” she wrote.

Branch, in his report to the Board on Monday, said he had been visiting with parents and students at schools in the run-up to the opening of the schools and that more than 90 percent were wearing masks.

Brock Toole, chief Operations Officer for the school system, told the Board at the Monday meeting that the school system had installed plexiglass, removed oversized furniture to create space, shut off water fountains, and began using fogger machines to disinfect the schools.

Student Services Report

Dallas LeDuff, director of student services, told the Board that all of the school nurses have been provided with Personal Protective Equipment.

“Our nurses have been outfitted with face shields, N95 masks, hospital gowns, and they really have everything that they need in order to, from a PPE standpoint, in order to safely operate in those clinics and come into contact with individuals who may have COVID-19,” LeDuff said.

“We continue to be in contact with the (Georgia) Department of Public Health, and they’ve given us new guidance,” LeDuff said.

LeDuff said that “This latest guidance is that while masks do mitigate your risks of exposure, in the event of an exposure to COVID-19, they will not be used as a determining factor to identifying one as a close contact.”

LeDuff presented the Board with a revised decision rule on what is to happen in the case of exposure to a person who is asymptomatic who has been diagnosed as having COVID-19.

Close contact is less than six feet for 15 or more minutes beginning two days before the person tested positive or had symptoms. It does not matter whether either party was wearing a mask.

The exposed person, according to the decision rule, may return to school or work after a 14-day quarantine period.

Buses And Hiring

Duane Peterson, Transportation director for the schools, briefed the Board on a new GPS system installed for school buses.

Parents can use an app to track when their student has been picked up and dropped off at the school, he said.

They also can get a text and email notification of when the bus is arriving.

Brook Whitmire, chief Human Resources officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board that the system had hired 80 new employees for the school year, including 48 new teachers.

“We did not miss a beat in hiring this year,” Whitmire said, despite the closing of schools last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are fully staffed,” he said. “We are ready to go. We’ve gotten some great employees.”


I could not attend the meeting of the Board of Education on Aug. 3, but Sarah Bell did attend and produced the video below.

While the entire meeting was devoted to discussion of school opening on Wednesday, LeDuff’s presentation was most detailed. It begins at 20:11 in the video.

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, had sent me an email just after noon on Monday saying that the 6 p.m. meeting would not be live-streamed.

I sent an email to the members of the Board of Education at 1:30 on Monday using their Board email addresses asking them to “please adopt a policy of live-streaming meeting” starting with the meeting on Aug. 10.

The Board did not discuss my request in its open meeting, and I did not hear back from any of the Board members after the meeting, so I contacted Board Member Amy Parrish on Tuesday evening on her personal email account to confirm that she and others had received my email.

She wrote me back and said “We did have a discussion about this last night. As is often the case, it is not as simple as it appears.”

“I think right now, though I would like to be able to tell you yes let's just turn it on, it requires a more thoughtful and planned out approach.”

So, while meetings in recent months have appeared on the School System YouTube channel, Bell’s video below is the only record of the meeting on Monday.


Unknown said...

Doesn't seem that complicated to me. The school board is having a public meeting and so it should be available to the public. During a pandemic, this means live streaming. Perhaps Amy could be more specific. Do they have technical problems? Or do they really want to meet without the public listening to them.

Jeanne Barsanti

Ronald I Bremer said...

disposable mask help limit the spread of germs. When someone talks, coughs, or sneezes they may release tiny drops into the air that can infect others. If someone is ill a face masks can reduce the number of germs that the wearer releases and can protect other people from becoming sick. A face mask also protects the wearer’s nose and mouth from splashes or sprays of body fluids.