SCCPSS board discusses COVID concerns, transportation at first meeting of school year

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education is prepared to adjust operation plans as COVID-19 continues to pose challenges.

Since the start of school last week, 230 students have tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,127 are in quarantine, according to Chief of Public Affairs Kurt Hetager.

The board met on Wednesday for the first time since the new school year started. Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett said COVID response teams are at every school and on the district level. 

Levett said she is confident the district is ready to respond to any challenge.

“If you look over the past year, we were able to move quickly, thoughtfully, reflect and certainly giving all attention we could to safety and making sure the students stayed on track, Levett said. “And we are prepared to pivot even more this year if we need to.”

While the number of positive cases reflects 1% of the student population, there is at least one positive case in every school, according to Hetager.

The board is urging parents to keep their children home if they’re not feeling well.

“If you have one child that shows up with a positive case, it has the potential to shut down the entire classroom wing or even the potential to shut down an entire school,” Hetager said.

The district says its precautionary measures, including mandatory masking, is necessary for keeping school doors open.  

Levett thanked families who have complied with the district’s mask mandate. At Monday’s meeting, four community members spoke against the requirement.

“As a mother and a grandmother, I implore you in good conscience to make masks optional,” Bethany Majeroni said. “Our children, our choice.”

“I wish to ask you to vote to end the absurdity and allow our children to have the choice and freedom to choose again,” John Boutwell said.

Another concern for the school district is transmission leading to staff shortages. 

“If you have multiple staff members who are down, you don’t have the staffing numbers to come in and be able to manage the classrooms,” Hetager said. “In that situation, we have to look at individual classes where you may have to flip to a virtual segment.”

Hetager also said rolling closures will be a necessary part of the district’s operations in order to stay open. 

As of Wednesday, 1,001 students are enrolled in the district’s e-learning program, according to Chief Operations Officer Vanessa Miller-Kegler. Registration for that program closes on Friday, August 13. 

Superintendent Levett said more families have been expressing interest in other virtual learning options.

“We have focused on safe, in-person instruction. But we are, of course, looking at how we can support families who may need a virtual option,” Levett said. “I’m not at this point able to promise that we’re going to meet every request, but we will do our very best.”

The school board also gave a transportation update. According to Miller-Kegler, 3,200 students were added to bus routes this week. 

“We were committed to getting as many students out of cars and on the buses,” Miller-Kegler said. “We saw the backlog, we recognized the problem, we recognized the crisis and we addressed it.”

Due to the district’s bus driver shortage, ridership has been prioritized by need. More students needing car rides to school has increased traffic.

Board member Tonia Howard-Hall raised concerns about the traffic near Godley Station School.

“I sat myself in traffic for one hour on Benton [Boulevard] and we know that it is not in our purview to add lanes to Benton [Boulevard] as far as the Board of Education is concerned,” she said. “But we are working to alleviate that problem with the car riders.”

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