The empty halls of Shiloh Middle School in Snellville will have a bit more activity once teachers return May 18 to close out the year.  
Photo: Ben Gray/AJC
Photo: Ben Gray/AJC

Gwinnett:  We understand teacher concerns over returning, but schools will be safe 

When I reported Thursday that Gwinnett planned to bring teachers back to school buildings the week of May 18th to close out the year, I did not expect  900 comments, most of them angry. (At me for reporting the unwelcome news, which many teachers did not believe, and at Gwinnett for asking them to return while Georgia is still under siege from the coronavirus.)

In mid-April, the district required some school leaders and support staff to report to their school buildings, so this is not an inconsistent policy decision by Gwinnett leadership.

Gwinnett’s announcement followed the governor’s lifting of a statewide shelter-in-place order for most Georgians,  which led many companies, including malls, to call workers back to the job.

Once Gwinnett teachers talked to principals, saw the planned safety procedures and got over their initial dismay, I figured their anger might subside.

Wrong again.

I continue to hear from Gwinnett teachers who believe the district is out of bounds to request staff back amid a pandemic. A petition seeks to stop what the authors deem a policy “too dangerous for our teachers, school personnel and their families.”

Given these concerns, I asked Sloan Roach,  Gwinnett’s executive director of communications and media relations, to address staff members who remain upset and wary: 

(Read responses to this piece here.)

From Sloan Roach:

While we understand some staff members may be apprehensive about returning to their buildings, our schools are working to put in place sensible and safe measures to ensure social distancing and to keep our folks safe and well. 

I have talked to principals who are adjusting schedules, providing sign-ups so that staff can have a slot to meet with administrators or the bookkeeper so that they can turn in items, marking off areas in the school to alert staff to physical distancing needs, and more...In addition, our principals are communicating their school-specific plans and information directly to their staff members. 

The major reason for our district’s move to bring teachers back to their school sites for the last week of school is the need to close out this school year under different circumstances than usual. 

During the three digital learning days (May 18-20) of that week, teachers primarily will be working with students who need to turn in missed assignments. (Some schools will be giving final exams, but, for the most part, finals will be completed the previous week.) 

One of the most important aspects of the End-of-Year process is verifying grades, especially this year. With the advent of Digital Learning Days in mid-March, our district determined the need to address grades in a different way that took into account the impact of remote learning on a student’s grades. 

We want to make sure that our teachers have all the information they need so that they can verify student grades. That work will be more complicated and take longer than it usually does as teachers will be assessing and comparing students’ work during digital learning with their in-school work prior to March 13. However, we feel this approach is important to ensure the most fair assessment of a student’s progress and understanding of the curriculum.

As a reminder, this is how we will be handling grades. If a student’s grade has fallen below the grade he or she earned in that same class during first semester, or lower than the student’s average in the class on March 12, the teacher will take a number of things into consideration before finalizing the grade. These considerations include the potential impact of the change in learning environment from in-person to online; whether the student had adequate and appropriate opportunities to relearn material or redo assignments; and if the student took advantage of available opportunities to make up work and demonstrate mastery of the AKS.

Another important reason for asking teachers to return to their classrooms is to get their help in preparing for families to pick up students’ personal belongings and return items that belong to the school. Of all of the staff members in the building, the classroom teacher has the best idea of what things in his or her classroom belong to which student. Their assistance will be vital to that process. 

Schools are developing plans to bring families to the school during the weeks of May 18 and May 25 to make these exchanges with as little contact as possible. These plans will be shared with staff and communicated to families directly.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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