Georgia Coalition for a Safe Return to School Holds the Great Georgia Teach-In

On Saturday, February 20, 2021, a beautiful warm day in Atlanta, a coalition of Georgia Educators from all over the metro Atlanta area gathered at the Georgia Department of Education with one common goal in mind- to rally for proper measures to be taken to keep students and staff safe in schools throughout Georgia.

Several speakers attended the outdoor event ranging from Georgia Educators, Scientists, and a Physician.

The Great Georgia Teach-In was broadcast live on Facebook, with virtual speakers in attendance and several in-person speakers and attendees.

Teachers are Asking for Safer Schools for In-Person Learning

Anthony Downer, a World History Teacher at Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett County, was the first speaker of the day. I had the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Downer before he spoke.

Mr. Downer reported that only 30 to 40% of students have returned to in-person learning at his school in Gwinnett County. Despite the loss of bus drivers, teachers, and administrators this year- Gwinnett County teachers are being asked to teach in unsafe conditions, in his opinion.

When asked why his school has less than half of their population enrolled in in-person learning, Mr. Downer shared statistics of the disproportionality of illness and loss of BIPOC teachers and community members, stating, “According to the CDC, Black people are more likely to catch COVID-19, three times more likely to be hospitalized, and twice as likely to ultimately succumb to the illness than white people.”

Mr. Downer went on to share, “Black families are a quarter to a third less likely to choose in-person learning than white families. Without thresholds for the spread to determine reopening plans, without optional testing and vaccinations, without consistent protocols aligned with recommendations from experts, how can we expect families to trust and choose in-person learning?”

Mr. Downer held a moment of silence for the educators and staff in Gwinnett County schools. In January this year, Maude Jones, a 68-year-old paraprofessional at Rock Springs Elementary school, died from complications with COVID-19.

Georgia Coalition for a Safe Return to School Demands

The following were the demands of the Georgia Coalition for a Safe Return to School:

  1. Wear masks that effectively stop the spread (of COVID-19).
  2. Frequent hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizer
  3. Social distancing in all spaces
  4. High-quality ventilation
  5. Contact tracing
  6. Testing and vaccinations for those that want them
  7. Implement community pandemic taskforces that set thresholds for the spread of COVID-19 and make policy recommendations
  8. Employees should be given a choice to work from home.

“While the CDC reported that schools that went back in-person in the fall did not significantly increase the spread of COVID-19, however, they did not include a representative sample of districts that serve primarily students of color or low-income students. Therefore, the true impact of COVID-19 has yet to be seen,” Mr. Downer went on, “I reject the narrative that views GCPS as a model for reopening.”

What is a Virus, and How Can We Treat Them?

Also in attendance was Biology and AP Environmental Science instructor Janna McCrary, who informed the public about the basic foundations of viruses and how Coronavirus spreads and evolves. The impact of this lesson was clear:

  1. Viruses are nonliving and need a host.
  2. Anti Virals suppress and inhibit a virus’s ability to reproduce.
  3. A powerful tool against a virus is a healthy immune system.
  4. Vaccines prevent infection and are useful in eradicating viruses.

Dr. Michelle “Kanika” Sims, MD

Also in attendance was Dr. Michelle “Kanika” Sims, MD, who shared her experiences with the virus and urged the Governor to make teachers a priority for the vaccine, “healthcare disparities should put teachers at the forefront for vaccines.”

Dr. Sims shared tips on how to survive COVID-19 while we wait for vaccines to become available:

  1. Wear a face mask, preferably an N-95 or double masking.
  2. Wear eye protection: a face shield or safety goggles.
  3. Hand washing 20 seconds or more and hand sanitizer
  4. Physical Distancing.

Tips for Teachers:

  1. Always assume someone in your cohort has COVID because they do. Act Accordingly. Never remove your mask around others indoors.
  2. Don’t eat indoors or around other people.
  3. Know that you are more likely to get COVID from your colleagues than your students.
  4. Apply hand sanitizer at least 100 times a day.
  5. No matter how cute the kid, don’t hug him or her.
  6. Maintain physical distancing as much as possible.
  7. Double Mask
  8. Wear eye protection
  9.  Never let your guard down
  10. Get Vaccinated whenever eligible.

What is the central message of the Georgia Teach-in Rally?

The Georgia Coalition for a Safe Return to schools demands three things:

  1. For all school districts to comply with the updated CDC guidelines.
  2. For Governor Kemp to make vaccinations for school employees a priority.
  3. For school districts to meet with teachers and staff and involve them in decision-making.  

The message is clear, the deaths of Georgia school employees are avoidable. Teachers want to work in a safe environment.

About Writer

Crystal Gammon

I have been in education for over 15 years. I began my education journey as a preschool teacher and program director at Lil' Acorns Academy, a Quality Rated preschool that I founded. My goal was to nurture a love of learning and foster emotional, intellectual, and social growth in children ages 2-6. I have an undergraduate degree in Child Development. In 2018, I decided to close my preschool to pursue my lifelong dream of being an Elementary School Teacher. I got my Master's in Elementary Education and began teaching third grade in August 2020 at a local public school in my state. I am a doctoral candidate at Brenau University, where I am doing educational research for my upcoming dissertation. My passion is education, equity in education, valuing diversity, and meeting diverse learners' needs.

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