Changing instructions generates new response from BOE

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer is continuing to change daily amid responses, suggestions, and instructions from state and national levels. The Board of Education is no different as they are developing several changes in their departments like transportation and nutrition as they prepare for the extended shutdown.

A few of those changes have come from established instructions since the beginning of the shutdown. Now, principals and schools administrators are expanding efforts to keep employees working and being paid despite the absence of students. The school system has already publicized efforts to keep teaching students during this time through paper packets in the lower grades and tablets and online learning for the upper grades.

Now, attention has fallen to the less publicized areas as the school attempts to expand its efforts to hourly employees. While the original response sent many hourly employees home, instead asking for volunteers to help support the initiatives like the school feeding program similar to Seamless Summer, now these instructions have changed. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said that legal questions have been raised about allocating public tax funds to employees not working. As such, and upon further consultations with attorneys upon the subject, the schools are expanding efforts and using hourly stuff to reinforce these initiatives to support students outside of the classroom.

In a letter from Superintendent Downs to the staff of Gilmer Schools, she said, “We have received additional legal guidance from Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins in the last couple of days that impacts all of our staff as we look toward more long term closures. Legally, we must document hours to be able to pay hourly employees even during a closure of schools mandated by our Governor. Every staff member will be required to document hours worked. We are asking you for a little grace, patience and understanding as we make decisions throughout the next several days and weeks.”

However, this is not just one area as paraprofessionals, office staff, some nutrition staff, transportation staff, and other hourly workers employees that do not directly interact and teach students will be attending to new work and tasks no usually in their daily routine.

Downs also addressed concerned employees, families, or those that wish to stay home during the Coronavirus shutdown. Downs said that there will be work to be done from home, in isolated offices, or in other forms as assigned by each school’s administrators. Downs said, “There is stuff for people to do, but they are going to do it from home.”

Even those who are coming into the buildings will be working individually in areas that have been cleaned. Additionally, those who need to stay at home will take days of leave through a recent Georgia Act concerning these issues.

With the extra workers supporting the Seamless Feeding program, the schools have altered instructions on how they will be distributing the meals to students in the coming days. In an email released about the changes, Downs said, “The situation seems to be changing daily and we are striving to make the best decisions possible in the interest of student, staff, and community safety. We have no previous experience in this area and will most assuredly make some mistakes in the process.  We will learn and grow together and be stronger as a result.  All of our staff who are physically able, are working either teaching remotely or working to support our students. Our goal is to have only staff critical to serving and transporting meals, building maintenance, and limited technology staff to support student learning entering any of our buildings.”

She also relayed exactly how the schools will be changing and expanding the distribution to incorporate meals and paper assignment packets to students.

Beginning on Wednesday March 25th, buses depart schools at 11:00AM and run standard routes distributing food.  This will allow meals to be distributed directly to the students; however, we will continue to keep our four busiest Seamless Feeding sites open from 11:30-1:00 in addition to these routes.

1)      Tower Road
2)      Mulberry Street Apartments
3)      Ellijay United Methodist Church
4)      Civic Center

Students in grades pre-K through 5 are working on paper assignments that were distributed on the last day of attendance for the first two weeks of closure. New updated packets will be distributed weekly through email, the meal distribution program, and designated pick up locations at the schools. Teachers of students in the elementary grades are also using online means to supplement the instruction. Students in grades 6-12 are assigned Chromebooks so that they can participate in virtual classes and interact with their teachers on a daily basis. For students in these upper grades without internet access, print resources will be distributed in the same manner as the curriculum packets for the lower grades.

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