Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher on Thursday told school board members at a called work session that “it’s just a matter of time,” before the school system has a student or staff member test positive for COVID-19.
Brooksher, who lauded work done by school employees and students during the first week of school, said “with 10,000 students and 1,400 staff members, it’s just a matter of time. We’re going to have positive cases. We have kids out now being tested, we have staff members being tested, we’ll have one that will come back positive. And let me clarify what I mean when I say a case, I mean a case that will require us to send kids home for quarantine.”
Brooksher said the system has already had an employee test positive “who had no close contact with kids,” and that’s been reported to the Department of Public Health.
The system also reportedly had a football player test positive for COVID-19 during summer workouts in July at Richmond Hill High School, which led to the quarantining of students and coaches.
“We had to send home a group of kids,” Brooksher said. “We’ll do the same thing in this situation.”
The superintendent called efforts to track and respond to COVID-19, “exhausting,” but “we’re trying to use good judgement,” he told board members during a called work session Thursday at the Community Education Center in Richmond Hill.
The school board’s decisions reopening schools in the middle of a pandemic didn’t come easily nor without some blowback from parents, according to Board of Education Chairwoman Amy Murphy, who said at Thursday’s meeting that it marked the first time for some board members that they’d been “inundated with negativity” through emails and on some social media sites.
“I will say that as many negative emails as we got, we also got a lot of really positive ones,” Murphy said during a discussion of how the school board should deal with complaints from parent and on social media.
Bryan County Schools is among a handful of area districts that gave parents an option whether to send their kids to school or enroll them in online classes. Those signed up for the online courses couldn't participate in extracurricular activities, however, though parents at a July school board meeting who felt their children were being punished for their choice to keep them home urged the board to reconsider that decision.
Unlike in years past, school board members have become more careful to present a unified front to the public through various “protocols” dealing with how they respond in to various situations. Even District 2 member Dennis Seger, for years one of the more outspoken on the school board, has become more politic in his public comments.
Murphy, a therapist by trade who has children in the school system, said she was appreciative of all parents who took time to contact her, but the school board’s protocols on responding to emailed complaints and on social media helped to “keep those buffers on the lanes when it’s hard, and allows us to govern so (school administrators) weren’t distracted by all this and could just go do your job."
Later, Murphy added: "I’m just so sympathetic with anybody trying to work through this thing.”
Brooksher said some in the public sometimes get blinders on and forget the system has employees as well, and their health is also important.
“If you’re employees walk on you, you’re not having school," he added.
Brooker told board members he extends invitations to parents who send him negative emails to discuss their issues in person, “but for every nasty email I’ve received, only one of 10 will show up.”
“People get really brave behind a keyboard,” Brooksher said, adding that of those who do come to listen to the rationale behind school system decisions may not agree, “but at least they’ll listen.”
“Ninety percent of them won’t, though. They’ll yell and scream at you on the computer, but they won’t come down and meet with you,” he said. “But I get it. People are a little tense right now.”
During the discussion, Karen Krupp, the school board’s vice chairwoman, said what makes the online negativity most difficult to refrain from responding to is that it is unfair to the system’s employees, who are in uncharted territory in dealing with the pandemic.
“It’s hard because I know how hard they’re working,” Krupp said.
There were some traffic issues at the newly opened Frances Meeks Elementary, which sits next to Richmond Hill Middle School. Brooksher said those were due to a combination of the time it took younger students to unload their school supplies from car lines at FMES and longer than expected car lines at Richmond Hill Middle School, as more parents chose to drop their kids off rather than let them ride buses. We’v e got to tweak some things but we do that every new school year
Brooksher said there will be tweaks to bus routes and other school procedures as the weeks go on, “but we do that every new school year,” he said.