“We all want it to be normal, we all want our normal lives back and I have nothing but sympathy and empathy for people who do, but we don’t live in normal times,” he told CNN. “And that’s the thing, people just choose to live like it is until it’s impossible to ignore.”
Chambers, who fears the coronavirus will spread to the entire region about 30 minutes north of Atlanta, said he saw this coming. He and other district parents received a letter in mid-July from Cherokee County School’s superintendent Brian Hightower announcing a 77-page reopening plan.
“It was voted on a day later, with limited opportunity for the public to participate,” Chambers said of the vote he said was limited to those who might show up at the last minute. “When the committee that made the reopening plan was formed, there were no teachers involved and teachers were not given an opportunity to review it before it was released to the public.”
In a statement to CNN on Wednesday, Cherokee County misrepresented Chambers’ claims.
“The meeting was open to 90 citizens in person and attended by 60 people, half of whom spoke during the public attendance. Another 6,000 watched the meeting online,” Cherokee County’s communications director Barbara Jacoby wrote in the statement .
She added, “Two committees, one made up entirely of teachers and staff and one made up of parents, partners (Department of Family and Children’s Services, local hospital, nursing home) and staff, made contributions to that of the superintendent.”
Chambers became a noted local activist after writing an open letter to the superintendent blasting the reopening plan.
“I see little evidence that guidelines from (the US Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health) were a major factor in creating these guidelines. In fact, your plan seems to repeatedly mitigate or ignore their recommendations as it apparently envisions a ‘best case scenario’ “When it comes to young people adhering to these changing rules and the ability of teachers to monitor and enforce them,” wrote Chambers, a game designer.
The plan now in force in schools calls for students in some schools No social distancing and some adults don’t wear face covering. Believing students who go in person are at risk, Chambers keeps his 10-year-old and 4-year-old at home.
High school closed
CNN reached out to Superintendent Hightower, who declined an interview. School district communications director Barbara P. Jacoby said, “(O) Our communications efforts focus on communicating directly with parents.”
On Tuesday, Hightower announced to parents that Etowah High School in Woodstock would study almost in person from the end of the day through at least August 31. There have been 14 positive cases of coronavirus in the school with tests pending for another 15 students. 294 students and staff were asked to be quarantined.
Hightower urged people to distance themselves socially and wear masks. “As your superintendent, I wear a mask when I can’t socialize. We know that all parents don’t believe the scientific research that suggests masks are beneficial, but I do believe it and see masks as an important measure, to keep schools open. ” he wrote to his parents.
The requirement for masks is a decision that is left to the individual Cherokee County schools. All over Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp has encouraged the wearing of masks but ruled out mandates and said he supports local decision-making.
Just north of Woodstock, Brandy Heath definitely thought it better to send her fourth and sixth graders back to the Freedom Middle and Liberty Elementary classrooms in Canton.
“I sent my son face-to-face learning because, as every parent knows, school is the best place for our children. Their teachers are educated and they can teach our children things we can’t,” she said CNN.
“On the second day of school, my son said to me, ‘Mom, I don’t feel safe. We are not socially distant, no precautions are taken to protect us,'” Heath told CNN about her fourth year.
As soon as she heard this, Heath, who says she was immunocompromised, moved her children home for distance learning.
“We expected the Cherokee County School District to protect our children. To take precautionary measures to ensure their safety. And it is not being done,” she said.
Back at the Woodstock playground, Jamie Chambers said he sometimes felt like he was fighting a losing battle. In this deeply conservative part of Georgia, politics continues to be put before science, and even some school officials have told staff they believe the coronavirus is a joke, he said.
Some of the parents in the park seemed less concerned about the virus.
“I don’t regret sending my children to school,” the mother of a fourth and fifth grader who refused to give her name told CNN. “They’ll get the virus either in school or outside of school and send them back just as well.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Cherokee County to clarify that some schools do not have social distancing and some adults do not wear face covers as per the district’s plan.