Editor's note: this story was updated at 12:30 p.m. Monday, July 27.
More than 170 teachers, parents and community members in Greene County sent a letter late Sunday to the Greene County School Board and the Greene County Public Schools superintendent asking for them to reconsider the plan that allows for in-person learning this fall.
"We are writing as concerned employees of Greene County Public Schools with the support of county parents and residents. As a tight knit community, the two cannot be separated. We urge you to reconsider our opening plan and pivot to a virtual learning plan until scientific and public-health data support it," the letter states.
The letter says that school employee are being asked to "weigh the risk of suffering from COVID-19 with our commitment to our careers and students in an environment with unknown safety."
“For me it’s all about safety and uncertainty,” said parent Kimberly Becker. “There are too many questions that haven’t been answered and I don’t feel the plan is complete.”
Katina McCain, also a Greene County parent, said she signed the letter because, “I feel every teacher and every student’s health and every family matters. One sickness or one death matters. We truly must be focused on students’ safety as well as teachers’ safety. The administration has proposed a great plan, but let’s use those plans when it is safe to.”
Lauren Garletts, William Monroe Middle School’s librarian, said she is very concerned about returning to school in person due to living with several chronic health conditions.
“Many people look at me and they don’t realize how much my body goes through just to get through the day,” Garletts said. “To the larger world, I look like a healthy 35-year-old; however, my body doesn’t function that way. It is terrifying to me the way that we as a society are approaching this very contagious illness that is causing not only sickness and death but long-term side effects that I know are going to be very difficult for people to deal with.”
“I have a 5-year-old and I refuse to leave him motherless because of this,” Garletts continued. “I am not willing to die for my job and leave my child without his mother, but I feel kind of fortunate to have a concrete reason to not take these risks. A lot of my colleagues and our students don’t have those reasons (but) it would be amoral of me not to fight for what I think they need as well. I don’t want to risk the lives of our teachers and students because we truly don’t know how it affects children yet; it’s such a new disease … we just have no idea of the implications.”
The letter outlines many concerns that teachers especially have felt were not yet addressed in the Return to Learn plan for the safety of the teachers and staff members.
“From the staff viewpoint, we were never asked if we were willing to return to the building,” Garletts said. “There are really no concessions to the lives of staff members in the plan at all. I understand that as a society we’re very concerned with parents being able to go back to work and children’s social-emotional health, but I would be very concerned sending my own child to school … I think the way we’re planning to reopen could be very psychologically damaging to a lot of our kids. There’s no right or wrong answer, but we’re not going back to ‘school’ as we all have school in our minds.”
Additional names are still being added to the letter, which has a link for other educators or community members to sign their support.
To see the letter in its entirety, visit https://docs.google.com/document/d/14uSoQcOB0G-fO-boiXfZj6XHt4ilV5KsZFvASjvGE-A/edit?fbclid=IwAR3m37-tj_DalKhEiN62zs9w_HcoS-eavkQkJVeEhcc3EXadnV5fP-m9ISE.
On Saturday, the School Board announced a special meeting for Wednesday, July 29 at 7 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center to vote on a revised 2020-2021 school year calendar with a proposed start date of Sept. 8.
“When we presented the Return to Learn plan to the School Board on July 8, we shared the reality that our plan was a starting point,” said Greene County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Andrea Whitmarsh on Monday morning. “We must be flexible and adaptable based upon the factors known at the current time, and such factors are changing daily.”
One reason for the special School Board meeting is that decisions must be made based on the student registration numbers, taking into account the number that elected for the all-virtual option versus in person and a large number of parents who failed to register their students by the deadline.
“We will provide an update on actions taken since the last board meeting on July 8 and share concerns raised by an open letter from several GCPS staff members requesting no in-person learning to start the school year,” Whitmarsh said. “We do not expect any decisions beyond the calendar will be made at this week’s school board meeting.”
The Greene County Record will continue to follow up on this after the board meeting, which is set to take place Wednesday July 29 at 7 p.m. in the William Monroe High School’s performing arts center (after press time). The meeting will be livestreamed and social distancing measures will be in place for those attending in person.