Barrow County School System Community,
Since COVID-19 changed our world back in March of this year, our community has had a lot to deal with and process. Changes to our lifestyles, work lives, and school lives have been frequent, fast-moving, and many times bewildering.
Throughout this time, your school system has attempted to navigate the storm and find balance wherever possible. We know that each decision we make is important to the community, and at the same time, we know that we cannot make everyone in the community happy with each decision. Every change brings with it uncertainty and anxiety for all of us.
On June 16, 2020, we brought forth an Action Plan that is grounded in data analysis and science. While we have made some slight changes and updates when presented with new data since that time, we have followed that plan closely. Our plan centered on the level of viral spread in the community. That has not changed. What has changed is the community spread level.
When it comes to COVID-19, one thing is constant however; as the rate of viral spread in our community increases, so do the risks to our schools. The data is clear; Barrow County’s viral spread is currently high.
Our main reason for existing as an organization is to serve the students of Barrow County by providing them with a strong education. Our number one priority, however, is to do so in a safe and healthy environment. We also have both a moral and legal obligation to ensure the safety of our employees. Without teachers and staff in the classrooms and buildings, we cannot fulfill our mission.
Recently, with these points in mind and using available data, we made the very hard decision to begin school for BCSS students virtually across the board. To be clear, this is absolutely not the path I nor anyone else in system leadership wanted to take. The decision was made with the health and safety of our students, our staff, and our entire community at the forefront.
One of the main points of contention we hear often regarding an all-virtual approach to learning has to do with student’s mental health and social-emotional state. We agree and are well aware of the research and importance of this aspect of public schooling. However, we must ask ourselves if it is not equally unhealthy for our students’ mental states and anxiety levels to expose them to an environment that creates daily fear of infection and will be very prone to ongoing, frequent, and unscheduled quarantining of groups of students and staff as well as random complete shutdowns of classrooms and schools. Attaining a COVID-19 lower spread level in the community prior to opening live school fully enables us to more easily manage these issues.
With all of this in mind, we turn to the next challenge at hand: how to return BCSS students and staff to in-person learning safely in the middle of a global pandemic.
It is our focus to get our students who chose in-person learning back into the classrooms as safely and as quickly as possible. In order to do so, we have developed the following phased-in plan that is driven by the most accurate data we have available.
It is our sincere hope and intention that this will allow us to get back to in-person learning in a manner that will minimize the constant educational disruption due to quarantining schools and classrooms that many systems around the state are already experiencing.
Dr. Chris McMichael
Barrow County School System