Some students, parents angry about City Schools of Decatur canceling extracurricular activities
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This story has been updated.
By Sara Amis, contributor
Decatur, GA — During public comment at the Aug. 11 meeting of the City Schools of Decatur Board of Education, several parents and students criticized the decision to cancel extracurricular activities.
Mary Helen O’Connor who is the mother of two city schools of Decatur students including Connor Ramming, a senior football player at Decatur High School, said, “There are 30 seniors on the football team whose future in higher education is in jeopardy. They have been practicing since June, and there have been seven COVID tests; none have been positive.”
O’Connor said that she felt the decision “was not made in a participatory manner.”
Connor Ramming, Girard Boudreau, Sam Mahany, and Isaac Dimmock, all Decatur High School football players, expressed similar sentiments including the worry that they may miss out on scholarship opportunities if there is no football season. Dimmock said, “Many of us seniors need scholarships in order to be able to attend college.”
Boudreau said that the Georgia High School Association had created guidelines for practice and competition during the pandemic. “Those who are most affected by this decision, the players and our coaches, were not included in this decision,” added Boudreau.
Mahany said, “We miss our teammates and coaches. We also believe that we can play safely under the COVID guidelines.”
Not all commenters were in favor of restoring extracurricular activities.
“I’ve heard a lot of conversation about how we need to get football and band going again, and I just want to make sure we keep focus on getting students back in the classroom,” said Decatur parent Laura Hart. Hart said that she was very sympathetic to the concern about potential scholarships, but added, “Keep in mind that this is an issue that’s all across the country. We’re not unique. I’m sure that colleges will take that into account.”
Robert Bibb’s primary concern was the lack of in-person services for special education students, including his younger child who is in kindergarten. Bibb stated that many special education students have cognitive delays, visual and auditory impairments, and speech delays that make virtual learning impossible.
“Distance learning is not merely an inconvenience to these students and their families. It is a barrier to receiving an education,” said Bibb. Because special needs education is mostly conducted in small groups or one-on-one, Bibb felt that those services could be provided safely.
Dr. Dude acknowledged the urgency of the problem.
“We do want to get our highest need special education students back in the school because it is very hard if not impossible to deliver some of those services virtually,” said Dude.
Dr. Dude called it an “an agonizing decision” to cancel fall activities, but pointed out that college football seasons are being canceled and that school systems that have tried to open are running into problems.
“I was just reading that in Cherokee County, close to 900 people are in 14-day quarantine. In my conversations with the board we are all committed to bringing everyone back as soon as we can do so safely, but safely is the key,” said Dude. He pointed out that COVID-19 cases in DeKalb County have risen in the last few days since the decision was made.
“It would not surprise me if [the GHSA] guidance changes in the next few days as reality sets in about what is actually happening. I think we will also see other school districts making decisions similar to ours,” said Dude.
Lewis Jones acknowledged the importance of activities for students’ opportunities and mental health.
“I was very impressed with the students who really took it upon themselves to make sure that band camp was conducted safely,” he added.
Information on school opening, scheduled for August 17, is available on the CSD website. A Virtual Learning Readiness Form is due August 12.
The last of a series of virtual town halls, “Wellness Wednesday,” will be held on August 12 at 5 pm. Recordings of previous town halls are available on the CSD website, along with virtual learning handbooks for grades K-5 and 6-12.
CSD will be running a full food service program and is currently taking pre-orders. Meals can be picked up at Decatur High School on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, or delivered to the nearest bus stop.
Board member Heather Tell said, “I want to make it clear that the school lunches are for all students, not just for free and reduced lunch students. Any student who would like to purchase a school lunch may do so and we encourage you to do so. Take one less thing off your to-do list and make sure your kids get healthy food.”
Board member James Herndon reported that the Senior Homestead Tax Exemption Committee was on schedule, and would be ready to make a presentation of their recommendations at the September Board of Education meeting.
“The meetings have been open to the public, but they have not been attended to the degree that we would like, so the committee’s going to ask to give one or two presentations to the public some time in September,” said Herndon.
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