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Dear Decaturish – City Schools of Decatur needs to close schools as soon as possible

COVID-19 Crime and public safety Decatur

Dear Decaturish – City Schools of Decatur needs to close schools as soon as possible

Fifth Avenue Upper Elementary, City Schools of Decatur, 101 Fifth Avenue.
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Update: City Schools of Decatur sent a letter on March 12 outlining its plans for dealing with coronavirus. Schools will not close at this time. The full letter is published beneath this letter to the editor. 

Dear Decaturish,

This letter is specifically addressed to the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education, Superintendent David Dude, and our Decatur City Commissioners,

I am writing as a concerned parent of children in CSD.

I well understand the seriousness of the decision you face whether or not to close schools. I want to advocate for Decatur taking creative and decisive steps to both protect our most vulnerable kids and to protect the health of all our citizens. We need to close our schools as soon as possible.

I know many, many parents need schools operating so we can go to work and so kids can learn. I know many, many children rely on food provided by our schools. I understand the deep barriers to access to technology for many of our kids. I also acknowledge the very real and significant privilege gap. Some parents have much more flexibility and many more resources than others. However, I spoke for 30 minutes to a mom working two hourly-pay jobs who is as concerned as I am about kids being kept in schools. She knows that children will carry the disease home to families with few health resources too. This is a very challenging problem, but we MUST follow expert guidance.

Do not succumb to the false characterization that we are in “pandemic panic”. This perpetuates the problem. [German Chancellor Angela Merkel] announced that 60-70% of people are likely to contract this virus. Even with optimistic mortality rates, that amounts to tens of millions of deaths globally. This is not about panicking. It’s about planning for the very harsh reality of this illness.

Public health experts are all recommending – for communities with limited or minimal cases (like Georgia) – not to gather 250+ people and to practice social distancing. Children are the worst vectors for this virus. Their symptoms can go undetected for days. They won’t be tested immediately, so if we wait for a positive case in CSD, it will be too late. Be proactive: close CSD schools.

This is too serious to ignore. With 2.8 ICU beds per 10,000 people in the US, and access issues in many of our communities, CSD needs to move quickly. At a recent Biogen conference of 175 people, 70 have now tested positive. Most if not all CSD schools are larger than that conference. Think of the spread just one case in a CSD school could cause in our community.

It is times like these that we need decisive, creative and proactive leaders to find solutions that work to advance the social good. DO NOT DELAY; let’s protect elders and medically vulnerable people in Decatur and avoid the dire circumstances that results from indecision.

Thank you for all you do, particularly in times like this.

– Lindy Miller

Editor’s note: Shortly after this letter was published, CSD sent a letter to parents with an update about the district’s COVID-19 plans. Here is the full letter: 

We are going to err on the side of communicating quickly rather than perfectly, so anticipate updates and/or corrections on a regular basis. We will issue updates at least once a day via email and our website (https://www.csdecatur.net/covid19) and our other communication mechanisms as more information becomes available.

Dear CSD Community,

The following is an update on our status and plans related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to meet the varied needs of our stakeholders, we are going to try a new approach to communicating this update. Below you will find three different versions of our message. The first is a very brief, approximately 10-word summary. The second is a slightly more in-depth 100-word summary. The third is a verbose, detailed update that may be 1,000 words or more. We hope this approach will help you find the level of detail you require.

Additionally, we have created a form to submit questions so we can ensure we are addressing the things you want to know. You are still welcome to email staff as needed, especially if you have questions about a situation very specific to you or your family, but all questions are welcome on this form. We will do our best to respond individually, where applicable, and to update our frequently asked questions page as appropriate.

Submit your questions at http://bit.ly/CV19Q.

~10 Words

We are not closing schools but we are limiting large gatherings.

~100 Words

We continue to consult with leaders and scientists at local, state, and national health agencies. Based on the best information available to us, we are NOT closing schools at this time but we ARE curtailing large group events. We have plans for what we will do in case of school closures, and will be sharing more details about those plans in the coming days.

1,000+ Words

This information comes from innumerable conversations with leaders and scientists at local, state, and national health agencies; and comprehensive review of all available factual information. Each decision we make is based on analysis of all of this information, consultation with experts, and coordination with local and state agencies and peer school districts. We are fortunate that some medical professionals involved in developing a national response are also providing input on CSD’s handling of this situation. Our internal team of dedicated professionals have been working on this non-stop and will continue to do so until this pandemic subsides.

Closing Schools

At this time, we are NOT closing our schools. It is quite possible that we will need to close schools in the near future, but given the current state of this disease in our county and state, it would be premature to close schools. Closing schools at this juncture would have little health benefit to the community, if any, and would have a major negative impact on most families. We will continue to monitor the situation and consult with experts, and we will close schools if it becomes prudent to do so.

In the meantime, families should begin preparing for what they will do if schools are closed for an extended period. This could be considerably challenging for many families, so it is imperative that you plan for what you will do in such a situation. If schools close, so will daycares, before- and after-school programs, extra-curricular activity providers, etc. Now is the time to ensure you have your plans in place so you are not caught off guard if we need to close schools.

If there comes a time when we have a case of COVID-19 within our school population, we will follow CDC guidelines in determining closures. Depending on the specifics of the case, this may include requiring a small number of students and/or staff to self-quarantine at home, or it may require us to close a specific school for a day or two to complete a sanitizing cleaning.

Student Absences

There are limited situations where specific families may need to make alternative attendance decisions even though our schools are open. For example, if a member of your household is part of a vulnerable population (as defined by the CDC), you should determine how you will limit contact between that person and others in the household who are coming and going.

If we do NOT close school, but a family keeps the student home:

– If the student is ill or is medically vulnerable, the absence will be excused in accordance with our standard attendance procedures (which include medical documentation for extended absences).

– If the student is not ill, but is under a quarantine issued by appropriate government authorities, the absence will be excused with written documentation from that authority. Such documentation must be provided to the school as soon as possible, preferably prior to the student’s absence.

– If the student is not ill, but lives with an individual who is recommended to self-quarantine (such as those over 60, those with compromised immune systems, etc.) and the family wishes to extend that self-quarantine to the student to protect the health of the family member, the absence will be excused with written confirmation of the living arrangement and reason for self-quarantine. Such written confirmation must be provided to the school as soon as possible, preferably prior to the student’s absence.

– If the student is not ill, and there is not an individual in the household under quarantine (as specified above), the absence will be unexcused in accordance with our standard attendance procedures.

– In the four situations described above, we are generally unable to provide educational enrichment since teachers will still be providing educational services to the students in school.

– It is CSD’s expectation that students under family-directed quarantine are excluding themselves from all in-person CSD-related activities (i.e. not only from school, but also from field trips, sporting events, club activities, prom, etc.) until such time as the current health concerns diminish.

Large Group Gatherings

Based on our most recent consultation with health experts, we believe it is prudent to begin implementing limits on large group activities. Effective immediately, we will curtail large gatherings, such as community circle at the elementary schools, and instead engage in smaller activities limited to the size of a classroom community.

Athletic events will be limited in the following ways:

– Only games that pertain to state qualifying will be played at this time.

– Those games that are still held will be limited to players and staff only. Fans (including parents and other students) will not be admitted.

– Games that involve opponents from a school with presumptive or confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be cancelled.

– Away games against opponents that are not following procedures similar to those above will be canceled.

We are exploring alternatives to how we currently serve lunch. The most viable option at this time is to have students eat lunch in classrooms. In such a case, students eating school lunch would visit the cafeteria on a staggered basis and return to their classroom to eat. These details are still being worked out and will be communicated to students once finalized.

Where possible, we will limit the number of students present in the hallways during passing times by staggering classroom dismissals.

Community meetings in our schools will also be canceled, such as PTSA/PTO meetings. Look at district and school calendars and newsletters for updates.

Field Trips and Travel

Out-of-country and out-of-state field trips and travel for students and staff are cancelled until further notice.

Local field trips involving a single class and with limited interaction with others, such as a walking field trip to a garden, are permitted. All other local field trips are cancelled until further notice.

Communicating with Schools

The DPH stated they will communicate with CSD if staff or students of CSD test positive for COVID-19. However, we are also asking parents to directly communicate with the principal of the school where your child attends if the student is being tested for COVID-19 so we can be on alert and ready our response for action if needed.

Food Service

As shared above, and repeated here for those only interested in this topic, we are exploring alternatives to how we currently serve lunch. The most viable option at this time is to have students eat lunch in classrooms. In such a case students eating school lunch would visit the cafeteria on a staggered basis and return to their classroom to eat. These details are still being worked out and will be communicated to students once finalized.

We are exploring whether and how we can serve our students who experience food insecurity if we get to the point of having to close schools. While the specifics of our plans will be dependent on the direction we receive from health authorities, we are ready with a variety of solutions. Those potential solutions include providing sack breakfasts and lunches that can be picked up at the high school daily or providing food in bulk for families to prepare at home. Not surprisingly food service is a highly regulated area of our operations and will necessitate many levels of approval through various government channels before we are allowed to implement any plan, especially if that plan involves non-traditional solutions like send food home in bulk for preparation at home.

Infection Control and Preventive Measures

School staff and nurses continue to educate students about following the prevention guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH):

– Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

– Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

– Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

– Stay home when you are sick. CSD requires keeping students home until they are 24 hours fever-free without medication. Contact your physician for guidance.

– Cough or sneeze into a tissue, throw the tissue in the trash and then wash your hands.

– Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

– Do your best to stay calm.

– Consistent with our standard practices, be aware that if your child becomes ill at school and needs to be picked up, we request that the student be picked up within 1 hour of notification.

– City Schools of Decatur

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