I am writing due to an overwhelming concern for the educational environment in Tift County.
I am a former resident of Tift County (30 years) and was a science teacher in South Georgia systems for 27 years (Worth, Ben Hill, Tift). I have worked with many talented staff, including the current superintendent of Tift County. And it is my concern for them and the students of Tift County that has prompted me to write.
I recently read this in a Tifton periodical:
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Tift County has reported 250 new coronavirus cases in the past two weeks, and 133 new cases in the past week alone.
For the past two weeks, Tift's cases translate to 612 per 100,000 population, the DPH said. Also during this period, Tift had a 16.2% positive test rate; the state's was 14.9%.
Tift County is seeing its average daily cases rise in recent days after experiencing a slight decline, according to data compiled by Emory University. On Dec. 28, Tift had 78 average daily cases per 100,000 population. Georgia's average daily rate was 59; in the U.S., it was 56, Emory reported.
Tift has had 2,855 total cases and 70 related deaths, the DPH said.
One of those deaths was the husband of a Tift County teacher. Let me add, when I worked in Tift County, I worked with two young women who had pre-existing medical conditions. One has since passed away; one is no longer teaching. These young women, under the circumstances currently in place, would surely be at risk for contracting COVID-19 as well as dying if they were teaching in any school in the system.
I wonder how many other staff and students are in that position today as you get ready to begin in-person learning. How many staff have preexisting conditions or are cancer survivors? Do you realize how terrified some of your staff are about contracting COVID-19?
I know my granddaughter is; she has a pre-existing health condition and as a result has missed half of last school year and will miss all of this year as well. Why? Because contracting COVID-19 would most likely be lethal for her.
I am well aware of both the Centers for Disease Control guidelines as well as the mandates put in place by Gov. (Brian) Kemp. I know that each district in the state was able to determine if their school personnel qualified as essential workers.
And Tift County did make that determination. But, I implore you, if that is your decision, then treat the staff as essential workers.
I would suggest, at a minimum:
1. Temperature checks for students and staff before entering the buildings. Yes, I have seen that occur in several school systems around the South, in systems larger than Tift County.
2. Mandate mask or face shield wearing. Yes, I have heard the arguments: you cannot mandate masks but I don’t buy that. I have worked in systems when skirt length, short length, sleeve length, piercings, tattoos and hair color have been mandated. After 9/11, we mandated no book bags then see-through book bags. Mandate face shields for those who claim they cannot breathe with a mask on. Our grocery clerks are more protected than the teachers.
3. Make PPE and cleaning supplies readily available to teachers and staff.
4. Do contact tracing.
5. Use applicable quarantining procedures. Re: #4 and 5.
6. Mandate that all administrators wear masks or face shields. They are the role models, are they not?
7. Are the rooms being sanitized on a regular basis?
8. What type of air filtration is in place? Can staff open windows and/or doors?
9. Keep the teachers and staff informed. Do all teachers know that changes were made in the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act?
10. Have you considered a “plan” other than what you are calling the green plan? With the surge in cases, it’s difficult to imagine that you would want to continue the year as “normal.” Wouldn’t a rotation plan or a more virtual situation, I believe you call it the hybrid plan, be appropriate?
11. If you have deemed teachers essential workers, have you a plan in place to have them vaccinated ASAP?
Perhaps some schools within the district follow all of these procedures. My former colleagues and friends working in Tift Country tell a much different story. You have been entrusted with the lives of children as well as the staff that educates them. I am sure no parent or teacher wants to be the last one shot in this war.
Dr. Patricia Gordon is has been a department chair in Worth, Ben Hill and Tift school systems, teacher of the year in two, system teacher of the year in Ben Hill County and a Top 10 teacher in Georgia.