SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Citing the ongoing threat of COVID-19, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) is recommending virtual learning for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
“You will see that there’s been an exponential increase in cases in the last several days and that is troubling,” SCCPSS Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett told reporters Friday.
The proposal was made with the help of a task force made up of more than 100 parents, staff and community members. The school board will discuss the recommendation at their next meeting on Thursday, July 16.
The superintendent recently announced Wednesday, Aug. 5, as a start date but that will likely be pushed back for teacher training. An SCCPSS spokesperson couldn’t say how far they’ll recommend pushing back the start date at this time.
Levett said that the school system is “much better prepared than we were in the spring.” Although many details are still being fleshed out, SCCPSS is working on a process to get devices to students who need them.
In the spring, Levett said 7,000 devices were issued and more than 11,000 paper learning packets were distributed. Those packets will still be an option for those who prefer that learning method.
Just a couple of weeks ago, SCCPSS held a pilot program to test safety protocols. But Levett explained: “We recognize that even with doing that, we would have some diminished capacity in a typical instructional fashion.”
“At that time, the numbers were starting to climb but we did not see the kind of climb we’re seeing now and the expectation for them to continue to climb,” she added.
Levett said SCCPSS will consider a face-to-face learning approach when there is a decline in COVID-19 cases.
“It is our desire to have students in front of us but it is also our desire to ensure that we have a safe environment and the numbers are not increasing,” she said.
Levett explained that SCCPSS is working on plans for students with learning disabilities or for students whose first language isn’t English — and will provide guidance for parents or guardians who have to be out of the house working.
“It’s not the perfect solution if you’re a student without disabilities and if you’re a student for whom English is a first language,” she said. “It’s not a perfect solution but it is better than not having a solution at all.”
The proposal flies in the face of threats from President Donald Trump to hold funding from districts that don’t open in person.
“We do receive federal funding, but I think the way that things work is that the funding is approved by Congress,” Levett said.
Some parents disagree with the proposal.
“A lot of us are actually considering withdrawing our children from the school district, completely; not even entertaining the idea of online education,” said one parent, who wanted to remain anonymous.
She argued that virtual learning undermines the idea of a free education.
“We want to hurt them where they’re hurting us — their pocketbook,” the parent said. “So you’re making us potentially have to quit our jobs and stay home? So every child that’s not in that seat, they’re going to lose federal money.”
The superintendent said she knows there will be criticism.
“We understand that there will be people who will say ‘nothing works for me except in-person instruction’ and we understand that,” Levett said. “It is not, as we see it, the safest option at this time.”