ELLIJAY, Ga. – On a tour through several schools in North Georgia, the State Superintendent Richard Woods visited Ellijay Elementary School last week to tour the school and speak with administrators on the beginning of the new school term considering much of the changes and challenges this year.
Woods arrived at Ellijay Elementary late in the day to see how the school handles transportation, social distancing, and cleanliness and prevention practices during that process.
Met by school administrators and Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Woods toured part of the school and spoke about the challenges that schools are seeing as they return to class. Through the line-up, car window tags, and computer system for parents picking up students, Woods saw the stream-lined system the Ellijay Elementary uses to identify parents, call for the student, and allow students into cars one at a time with space between.
In addition to this, Woods viewed several classes lining up for buses. Through the redistricting that Gilmer did last year, less buses come through the elementary school and reach homes far faster. This means less time on the bus, and less time spent with students from other schools.
As a part of the loading process, school personnel and the bus drivers spray sanitizer on students hands before the enter the buses and use assigned seating for students on the bus. Administrators also told Woods that, when possible, family members are kept together on the bus as well.
Woods also asked about the sports program at stadiums with schools returning to football. Dr. Downs replied saying they would be requesting those displaying symptoms stay home, and would be encouraging social distancing with fans. Yet, they did not want to distribute limited tickets to families as they had dealt with similar issues in previous years at graduation.
Continuing along, Woods has been asking the schools he visits how he and the state could help.
Dr. Downs noted that teachers in the state are not considered essential employees by the governor. That moniker means something as teachers who may have a possible exposure through detailed contact tracing or similar means are being sent home to quarantine for 14 days. Gilmer has had issue here as people who aren’t sick are being forced to go home. Some flexibility in the area could mean a world of difference.
Dr. Downs said that someone who may have had a possible contact could come to work with an N95 mask and fall under daily monitoring and observation. This way, at the first sign of any issue, they could be sent home then, but many teachers have been identified as a possible contact and gone through quarantine without ever getting sick or showing any signs. Downs added that those who feel the need to quarantine could still follow that procedure.
Downs clarified that they don’t want to put sick people in school, but rather avoid stigma and over-reactions to extended contact tracing that is sending a large number of people home and putting a strain on the school system which is struggling to provide substitute teachers. This comes from a dwindling pool of substitutes as those “at-risk” have decided not to substitute for the schools this year.
As the visit neared its end, Woods said he understands that every county is adjusting to their own needs and a “one-size-fits-all approach” would never have worked. But he made the visits to see the schools and hear their needs.
Woods is set to return to the state department and share all that he saw and learned from his tour. He has said that he wants the state to continue supporting the counties in their individual responses.
Woods said, “Please let us know how we can help and things that we can do to support what you all are doing… Success happens her.”