Bryan County Schools extended its deadline until midnight Sunday for parents to choose whether their kids will attend school the fall semester or enroll in online classes.
The decision to extend the deadline, originally set for July 23, was announced by Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher at Thursday night’s school board meeting, which was held in the Richmond Hill High School cafeteria. Approximately 35 people attended the meeting, and several signed up to speak.
Most questioned the decision by school officials to not allow students enrolled in “e-learning” to participate in extracurricular activities ranging from sports to band to clubs, with some calling it a punishment.
One parent questioned the mask requirement. Another took issue with an email communication to parents from Brooksher which described those who chose “e-learning” as “fearful,” while another claimed the system’s denial of extracurricular activities to those who chose online classes was an “ultimatum” rather than the option touted by officials. One parent said she was unsure which choice to make.
Questions about honors and advanced placement, testing and transportation were also raised.
By and large, however, the parents who spoke thanked school officials for their efforts, and several noted the system was why they’d moved to Bryan County in the first place.
Principals and administrators from each of the system’s schools were on hand, and after public comments Brooksher introduced them and encouraged parents to address specific questions to them.
Approximately 10,000 students are expected to be enrolled in Bryan County Schools this fall. Last week, Brooksher announced the system would delay the start of school until Aug. 17 in order to give the system time to prepare, but warned that could change as officials statewide and around the country attempt to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school board did not respond to comments, but Board of Education Chairwoman Amy Murphy read a statement afterword on behalf of her fellow board members before the board went into executive session to discuss personnel matters.
Her statement is below. See the July 30 print edition of the Bryan County News for more on this story.
We want to thank everyone that has come to our meeting tonight to express their concerns. We are appreciative and thankful for every community member that has taken the time to email, text or call to share their thoughts and feelings about school reopening in a few weeks.
Your job as a parent is to love your child, guide your child, and strive to provide every opportunity for growth and success that you can. We again are appreciative that you have taken the time to share with us how our decisions affect your family and your child on an individual basis. That is part of what a parent does- reaches out, asks questions and teaches their child how to speak out appropriately when concerns arise.
More than anything tonight, we want you to take away how very much we care. We understand there is frustration, anxiety and disappointment.
In fact, frustration, anxiety and disappointment are actually great ways to describe life in many ways right now. Just 6 short months ago, no one in this room was thinking about COVID. The majority of us were enjoying the normalcy of a routine life. And then we were all stopped in our tracks. COVID has affected everyone differently and profoundly.
As summer was moving along, the plan was truly to fully open our doors with increased disinfecting and safety measures. But, like you, we have watched as COVID is an ever evolving situation. And so it became important to try to offer families an alternative to in person instruction. The intent has always been to support our students and staff, to protect their health and safety while they are in our buildings and to provide the best academic experience possible.
Every person sitting at this table is a parent. 7 of the 8 of us have children enrolled in Bryan County Schools. 3 of the 8 of us have multiple children enrolled in Bryan County Schools. Like you, we are making the same difficult decisions about what to do about back to school. Like you, we have many unknowns to contend with. And like you we are frustrated by the impact that COVID has had on not only schools, but our lives in general.
We wish we could rewind and go back to normal. We desperately wish that we weren’t dealing with a pandemic. But the reality is that COVID is here and we don’t know when or even if it will go away.
So our priority is protecting the health and safety of our staff and students. While each parent struggles with the best decision for their child, this Board must bear the responsibility of struggling with the best decisions for almost 10,000 children and over 1300 employees. Our job as a Board of Education is to listen to you, reflect thoughtfully on all the information presented to us, and then make the very best decisions that we can for those we have pledged to represent.
We understand everyone is not happy with our decisions and the ongoing uncertainties. Again, we wish it was not this way. Bryan County Schools prides itself on always putting its best foot forward and thinking and rethinking down to the tiniest detail until we get it close to perfect. COVID has made that impossible.
So we ask for your grace if you can find some to give. Our intent is to provide an option, albeit imperfect, if you do not feel comfortable sending your child physically back to school. Our other intent is to keep our children and employees as safe and protected as humanly possible and to continue to educate our students under conditions that no one has ever dealt with before.
To my fellow Board members: Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the children of Bryan County Schools. These have been difficult days and I appreciate your engagement, thoughtfulness into all of the decisions we’ve had to make and for your support. I am proud to serve this community with you and I truly regard it as one of my deepest privileges.
To our Superintendent, we are so grateful for your leadership under these unprecedented and challenging conditions. Few people know and understand the burden of responsibility you bear as the leader of Bryan County Schools. We do. And we want to publicly thank you for your dedication to our students and our staff. We are also grateful for your Central Office team who give so much to support our schools.
To our administrators, we are grateful for your leadership as well. We know you bear the responsibility of your buildings, employees, parents, and students. Your dedication and love for those under your schoolhouse roofs is beyond dispute. We know these are difficult times for you as well. We thank you for the countless hours you have already spent and for the countless hours you will continue to spend preparing for the return of your staff and students.
To our Bryan County school employees- from our bus drivers, food nutrition workers, support staff, maintenance and custodians- Thank you for being the behind the scenes, unsung heroes who also love our students and our school system.
To our amazing teachers: Bless you. Bless you for continuing to teach and for choosing to teach in Bryan County Schools. Thank you for your patience, for your flexibility and for your love of Bryan County students. We know you will be ready and waiting to welcome our students, whether it be physically in the classroom or through eLearning.
In closing, thank you again to all. We pledge to continue to care, to listen and to make the very best decisions possible with the health, safety, and academic success of our students guiding our decisions.