Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) has released more details about reopening plans for students opting to attend in-person schooling during the 2020-21 school year.
Assistant Superintendent of Achievement and Governance, Sarah Rigdon, updated the Board of Education (BOE) on the latest decisions to reopen Fannin County’s Schools in August.
“We are revising our plans somewhat,” Rigdon said of the ever changing guidelines related to Covid-19, “because we want to also be good stewards and good partners with our governor in trying to keep everyone in Georgia safe and healthy.”
Rigdon referenced Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s “Four for Four” plan, where Kemp is urging Georgians to follow these four guidelines for four weeks:
- Wear a mask when out in public or when you cannot keep distance inside.
- Practice physical distancing – six feet from those you don’t live with.
- Wash your hands for 20 seconds several times throughout the day with soap and warm water.
- Follow the executive order and heed the guidance provided by public health officials.
According to Kemp, if Georgians commit to these four things, “we can make incredible progress in the fight against Covid-19”.
With the “Four for Four” plan in mind, the school system has outlined a few new procedures for school students this year.
Rigdon gave an update for students who will be riding school buses this year. The plan for buses was previously still in the works when the initial reopening update was given at the BOE’s July 9th meeting.
After consulting with medical professionals, school and district leaders, the FCSS has decided that masks will be required for all students riding buses.
Disposable masks will be available to students riding buses as well as hand sanitizer to be used before boarding the bus.
“That is a requirement, not an encouragement or suggestion,” Rigdon emphasized of the decision for riders to be required to wear a mask.
Social distancing is just not possible for students on buses and Rigdon stated of preventing person-to-person spread of Covid-19, “The best defense against that is going to be masking up.”
Students may also receive assigned seating on buses.
FCSS is still not making masks a requirement for students and staff inside school buildings, but are highly encouraging the mask wearing practice.
The district received a donation of cloth masks from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and will offer all students who are attending face-to-face school one of these masks.
For parents, guardians and visitors to any of the school campuses, a mask or face covering will be required along with a symptom check before entering any buildings.
Employees of the FCSS will participate in Covid-19 related training. The training will consist of guidance about “best practices and instances when face coverings will be required”.
This specific situational guidance and training will be reviewed by the Department of Public Health.
Lastly, school specific plans for safely reopening are still being worked out among the individual schools. Staff will be given this information before returning on August 3 and parents/guardians will be given this information prior to August 7.
“The guidance is constantly updated,” Rigdon spoke about the individual schools’ finalizing plans and that these plans could still change as the district receives new information.
Featured Image Courtesy of Fannin County School System
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Dr. Dillon Miller of Blue Ridge Medical Group spoke publicly at the recent Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) meeting about his concerns with the district’s plans to reopen schools in August.
Miller was previously consulted before the decision was made to close schools, prior to the state mandated closure, in March. However, Miller was not a part of the process in the decisions made to reopen.
“Tonight the Fannin BOE presented their plans for returning to school in the fall. These plans were finalized in the absence of my husband, the Chief Medical Officer at Fannin Regional Hospital,” Jocelyn Miller, Dillon Miller’s wife, said in a statement on Facebook following the BOE decision.
Jocelyn went on to say, “He has no agenda other than to protect the lives of students, teachers, and staff in our community. His view is limited to the best medical science that currently exists and is in accordance with regulations outlined by the CDC.”
Among Miller’s concerns are the district’s lack of planning to require students and staff to social distance or in the absence of distancing, wear a mask.
“I wear a mask all day. I do not enjoy it, but I do it because it keeps people safe,” Miller spoke to the BOE, adding, “Some are concerned about it depriving your body of oxygen, this is not true. What is true is that If everyone is wearing a mask, this significantly reduces transmission of covid-19.”
Miller spoke of the seriousness that he has witnessed with Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and the possibility of spiking cases in the Fall and Winter months: “This is not the flu. Never in my experience as a physician have I seen tertiary hospital ICUs filled to capacity in July.”
“As a community physician my greatest concern is the safety and health of the teachers and staff. These individuals are on the front lines caring for our children and putting themselves at the greatest risk,” Miller stated explaining that while children might display minor symptoms or none at all, they are still able to pass the virus on to those in more susceptible age groups.
According to Miller complacency could lead to Fannin County seeing a more serious outbreak, like those seen in other counties in Georgia.
Dr. Dillon Miller’s full statement to the Fannin County Board of Education:
I want to briefly go over the medical recommendations for preventing the spread of covid 19 in schools.
There are three ways we know we can prevent the spread of Covid 19
- 6-foot social distancing
- Wearing a face mask
Handwashing is self-explanatory, so I would like to discuss the other two.
Studies show that if you are within six feet of an infected individual in an enclosed space for longer than 15 minutes, your chances of catching covid-19 increase significantly. Under typical conditions students and teachers are within feet of one another for hours at a time. If it is not possible to spread students six feet apart, the science clearly states that masks must be worn. This is the policy being enforced at universities around the state.
As a physician I cannot support a plan moving forward that does not mandate 6 foot social distancing and when this is not possible have a mask requirement.
I wear a mask all day. I do not enjoy it, but I do it because it keeps people safe. Some are concerned about it depriving your body of oxygen, this is not true. What is true is that If everyone is wearing a mask, this significantly reduces transmission of covid-19. Remember masks protect others more than they protect the wearer. This is one of the best weapons in our arsenal.
Some people believe that children cannot become infected with covid-19. While children under 15 are less likely to be infected and will develop less severe complications, there is still debate about their level of infectiousness. Teenagers, however, are more susceptible than small children and more likely to spread the disease. Some of the first cases in Fannin County involved high school students.
As a community physician my greatest concern is the safety and health of the teachers and staff. These individuals are on the front lines caring for our children and putting themselves at the greatest risk. Masks and six-foot social distancing are their only forms of protection. If you are not mandating masks or social distancing you are denying them a safe work environment.
This is not the flu. Never in my experience as a physician have I seen tertiary hospital ICUs filled to capacity in July. Some hospitals that regularly accept transfers of the sickest patients are not accepting transfers due to lack of beds. July is when doctors go on vacation and relax, this is not normal. Expect the fall and winter to see even more cases.
Due to the bold choices made by the board of education and community in March, we in Fannin county have not experienced a surge of covid cases like other areas in the state but that can change if we become complacent.
Thank you and I pray for your health and safety.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Students of the Fannin County School System (FCSS) will have the option of returning to school in a modified traditional setting or utilizing online learning for the 2020-21 school year.
School Administration released their plans for reopening schools at the Board of Education (BOE) regular July meeting.
Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon gave the board an overview of what to expect when school comes back into session.
The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) released guidelines in early June for schools to consider when reopening in the State of Georgia. These guidelines, however, were only recommendations and the ultimate decisions for school operations were left up to the districts.
The DOE guidelines, along with guidance from both local and state authorities, as well as guardian and faculty input helped shape the approach that the FCSS is choosing to implement for the time being.
“The important part for us was to get the information and make the best decisions that we can,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke of the system’s plan. “This plan is subject to change. We need to think of this as a living document. It will be modified as new things are learned.”
Traditional school, or in person education will begin on August 7, 2020.
Faculty and Staff are to report on August 3, 2020.
Online Learning will also begin on August 7, 2020.
Parents and Guardians may enroll their child for Online Learning between July 10 – July 20, 2020.
For those not comfortable with the traditional in class setting, an online option will be available. Assistant Superintendent Rigdon stressed that this online option will not mirror the distance learning that the school put in place upon the mandatory closure earlier this year.
The online learning platform will be run through a 3rd party that is yet to be determined. The platform will provide instruction to the child with the parent or guardian being a “learning coach”.
Students enrolled in online learning will spend the majority of the traditional school day (8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) either working online or working to complete assignments given online. Attendance will be taken and monitored via login and assignments completed.
There will be FCSS personnel assigned to check on each child’s progress. The “learning coaches” will be given the name of someone at the school who can help them navigate the program or assist with issues.
The content of the online learning platform, according to FCSS, will be “rigorous and graded”.
Students enrolled in Online Learning will be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities.
While the FCSS is not requiring that students sign a contract to remain in the online platform once enrolled (many other districts have this requirement), they would like to see those enrolled stay with the program through the first semester or for the entirety of the school year.
“We are not asking parents to sign a commitment, but we do want them to be extremely thoughtful as they make that decision because it is going to require us to allocate and spend funds that could be better spent if they’re not going to stick with the program,” Rigdon explained of the need for students and guardians to consider the decision heavily.
Rigdon did add for those who enroll but discover that the online platform is not working for them, “We are never turning a child away from our schools.”
Students utilizing the Online Learning platform will complete assignments from a school issued device. FCSS will provide a WiFi hotspot for students without internet, but these hotspots work much like mobile phones, so if you are an area with poor cell phone service it is likely that the hotspot would not work for you.
Online Learning is available for children in grades Kindergarten – 12. This includes children with IEPs (Individualized Educational Program). Online Learning is not available for Pre-K students.
Masks are optional for both students and personnel. Parents or Guardians must provide a mask for students who wish to wear one throughout the day.
Temperatures will be taken for all students, staff, parents and guardians each morning upon arriving at the campus. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be permitted to stay at school.
Hand sanitizer will be available to all children and adults before entering the school buildings.
Elementary teachers will move the students instead of students changing classes. Middle and High School students will not be allowed to congregate in hallways. When and where possible class changes for Middle and High School students will be staggered or hallway traffic patterns will be addressed to prevent overcrowding.
When possible students will be assigned seats and will keep the same seat during the instructional class period.
Each school will “develop school level procedures” to limit the number of students in the cafeteria. This may include “grab and go” where students will pick up meals and eat in a classroom or designated area.
The final plan for buses has not been finalized. However, hand sanitizer will be available for anyone upon boarding a bus. Buses will be sanitized daily and ventilated to the extent feasible when in route.
Parents and guardians will be notified of any adjustments to bus routes or pick up times before the first day of school. Requirement to wear a mask while on a bus has not been decided, but parents and guardians will be notified of this decision as well.
Parents and guardians will be allowed to walk their child to class during the first few days of school but must wear a mask. Schools will determine when parents and guardians will no longer have access beyond the main entrance.
FCSS states “We want to keep the lines of communication strong, but we need to limit the number of people flowing into and out of the buildings each day.”
***If Schools Close Again***
Those students enrolled in Online Learning would continue the course that they are taking with no change. Students of the traditional classroom setting would switch to online learning but follow a model similar to that that was implemented in March 2020.
The FCSS states of the opening plan that “plans may change based on future orders from the Governor, the Department of Community Health, or the Department of Education”.
“Our desire is always to operate a traditional school with face to face,” Rigdon said of the hope for all students eventually to return to a traditional setting, “We believe our instruction is best at that level.”
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Volunteers at the Blue Ridge Community Theater (BRCT) are stepping up in a big way to give support to local agencies and citizens, as we all face the Covid-19 pandemic together.
To quote the great William Shakespeare: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves”, and the volunteers at BRCT are doing just that, by shining a light of purpose in what is a dark time for many.
The mission of the volunteers came about when a dialysis clinic in Chattanooga, Tn. put out a call that they were in desperate need of face masks for their patients. This clinic asked for the public’s help in getting 600 masks.
The volunteers at BRCT stepped up to answer this call. Head Seamstress, Kim Westcott spoke of the group coming together, “We sew costumes. We’re good sewers,” and added, “We’ve got lots of material, unsuitable for costumes but it’s perfect for this!”
Each mask must meet certain guidelines and specifications, among these the material used must be 100 percent cotton.
Westcott talked about how people, especially quilters, across the nation are stepping up to make the washable masks to help curb the shortage of this very necessary item: “This is a grassroots effort by every quilter out there.”
Westcott pointed out that quilters know their material and have 100% cotton material that is required on hand.
Of the requested 600 masks to the dialysis clinic, the BRCT volunteers produced around 50 and delivered them. As of Friday, March 27, the clinic had received over 400 masks.
BRCT has since reached out to several local agencies and will continue making masks for the area. Some of the masks made have gone to CASA (court appointed special advocate) volunteers to give to grandparents who are guardians of younger children, some have gone to volunteers that continue to work at the local food bank and of course, many masks will be sent to Fannin Regional Hospital.
The volunteers have received essential status from the City of Blue Ridge, allowing them to continue production during the city’s declared State of Emergency.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” Westcott said of being able to help during this nationwide crisis, “As long as we have a place to deliver them to, we’ll be making them.”
The eight volunteers have now fine tuned the production process in an assembly line fashion, and Westcott says this method is very efficient, “Now that we’ve got the process down, we can probably turn out 30 to 40 a day.”
When asked how many masks the group anticipates making and giving away, Westcott replied, “We’ll give them everything we get and we’ll keep making them until this whole crisis passes.”
Beyond mask production, BRCT has partnered with Family Connection in collecting donations for their food bank services. The theater was able to make 5-6 deliveries last week to this cause.
Volunteers from the theater are also out delivering groceries, medications and other essential items to people who are quarantined or at too high of risk to leave their homes.
Westcott asks that in lieu of donations for mask making productions, that people please consider donating food and essential items to the theater to be delivered to Family Connection.
The theater currently has enough material to produce around 1,000 masks.
Featured Images in article are courtesy of the Blue Ridge Community Theater Facebook Page.
Note: BRCT response to question regarding social distancing : “While we did gather together for a picture, each woman has her own station where she assembles her portion of the masks. We are blessed to have a very large costume Room, so we try to give them as much space as possible!”