Habersham Board of Education delays school reopening

Following the advice of superintendent Matthew Cooper, the Habersham County Board of Education will delay the reopening of schools until Sept. 8, 2020, with a unanimous vote in favor of the delay. Cooper says the goal of this delay is to safely reopen schools for in-person learning and does not recommend delaying the opening of schools again.

Habersham county schools have had one staff member test positive for COVID-19, but Cooper says “we shouldn’t celebrate too soon.” Cooper says it would be “naive” to think COVID-19 won’t make an impact on Habersham county schools, which Cooper says is a major employer for the Northeast Georgia region, while also having a major impact on families in Habersham county. There are currently 18 employees quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure.

During its regular monthly meeting on August 10, the Habersham County Board of Education unanimously voted to postpone the start of school by two weeks, from Aug. 21 to Sept. 8.

Cooper cited the reopening of schools across the state and the spread of COVID-19 in those schools. “Frankly, I don’t know why [school districts] were in such a hurry to bring their students back,” Cooper says. “Before we bring students back into buildings, we better make sure it’s [safe] for our adults.”

The school system is currently short custodial staff to effectively clean schools. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea to bring students back until we’re sure we have the staff to serve them,” Cooper says.

Cooper says he sees “no reason” to rush back to school, and calls schools that have already begun in-person learning irresponsible.

The COVID-19 spread in Habersham county has increased since July 16. A public health official with the Georgia Department of Health confirmed for the Habersham BOE that COVID-19 is spreading in Habersham county; she says this spread could decline in the near future.

“There’s so much division out there. I’m calling on the community tonight, to help get these kids back on September 8. The school system is doing its part. If we delay until after Labor Day, we will have done our part to slow this thing down, but it’s going to take the community to do its part,” Cooper says. He encourages social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding unnecessary social gatherings.

“We need the community to help get our kids back in school,” Cooper says. “It’s going to take everyone, whether you have kids in schools or not.”

Mask policy, Elger’s apology and social distancing

Cooper explained that Habersham county would not mandate mask usage in schools, which he says some teachers have praised, saying that faculty and staff are wearing masks because it’s the right thing to do, not because of a mandate. “We want people wearing their face coverings,” Cooper says. “If people pay attention, they’ll see it’s the right thing for them to do– and others.”

John Elger

John Elger apologized for his “graceless exit,” from the last BOE meeting. Elger says COVID-19 cases could dramatically drop if Habersham citizens, like citizens in other American cities, are “willing to sacrifice your individual ‘freedom,'” to wear a mask. Elger released a statement regarding the reopening plan, which can be read in full here.

Habersham teachers are coming up with solutions to allow for as much social distancing during in-person learning as possible, such as removing unnecessary items from classrooms to create more space between students, minimize class changes and use more outdoor spaces. Cooper recommended doubling recess times in Habersham’s elementary schools as well.

The meeting was livestreamed on YouTube.

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