The following are highlights of the January 4, 2021, special called meeting of the Gwinnett County Board of Education (BOE). Board members present included Karen Watkins, Steven B. Knudsen, Dr. Mary Kay Murphy, and Dr. Tarece Johnson. The official minutes of the meeting will be approved by the Board at its next monthly meeting.
Board receives overview of the district's COVID response plans and schedule for second semester
Dr. Steve Flynt, associate superintendent for School Improvement and Operations, reviewed the district's process for gathering families' instructional preferences for their children for second semester. At this time, based on the input received, 44.5% of students will attend digitally and 55.4% will attend in-person (compared to 55% digitally and 45% in-person during first semester). Dr. Flynt also reviewed previously shared/approved calendar changes for second semester that provide an additional planning day for teachers on January 6 and the addition of four digital learning days during the semester (January 26, March 2, March 16, and April 20). These will be asynchronous learning days where students will learn from home, providing teachers additional days for planning during the semester. The revised calendar also calls on students to return to learning on Thursday, January 7. In addition, he reminded Board members of the many resources available on the district's website, including health and safety information from health partners and daily reports of the numbers of positive cases, suspected cases, and close contacts by school. He shared that the district's Return to In-Person Instruction Guide that had been provided to staff has been updated for second semester to include updated guidance from health partners and adjustments to operations based on what was learned during first semester. Like the guide for faculty and staff, the Principal's Guide also has been updated accordingly. Dr. Flynt also reviewed the work the district has done and will continue to do in the areas of social emotional learning support and health response team support. He informed the Board that school district staff have been working with the Health Department to develop a plan to provide opportunities for staff vaccinations as part of Phase 1B of the state's vaccination plan. These vaccinations could be available over the next month. More information will be shared with the Board and employees as details are finalized. The report concluded with a summary of personal protective equipment (PPE) that is available in the classroom and at all schools.
Board discusses plans for second semester
Following Dr. Flynt's report, Board members asked additional questions and discussed feedback they have received from their constituents, acknowledging there are differing views in the community regarding in-school and digital learning. As part of the discussion, Karen Watkins of District I and Dr. Tarece Johnson of District V expressed concerns for staff and requested a seven-day delay in the start of in-person learning along with the convening of a pandemic task force made up of a cross-section of stakeholders who would be tasked with creating a safety plan for the return of students to school. Following a question from District II Representative Steve Knudsen, Dr. Flynt reminded the group that the school system's current plan was the result of a district-led pandemic task force and that adjustments to the plan that have been made and continue to be made are the result of feedback gathered from schools. As part of the discussion, it was shared that the district has not received any additional CARES Act funding beyond what was received last spring. Mr. Knudsen expressed his support for the work that has been done to date and to staying the course with the current plan that allows those students whose families selected in-person learning to return to the school building on January 7 as planned. Following the Board's discussion, CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks indicated that he appreciates the concerns that have been raised and shared. However, he is not recommending a change to the current schedule that calls for students whose families selected in-person instruction to return to school on January 7 with the remainder of students learning digitally based on their family's preference. Dr. Mary Kay Murphy of District III closed the meeting, thanking her fellow Board members and expressing her commitment and desire for them to work together as a united board as they make decisions regarding the school district.