Marietta City Schools Superintendent, Grant Rivera Cites Polarization and Politicization as Realities of COVID Pandemic

In a letter to Marietta City Schools Families, Superintendent Grant Rivera outlined what he described as… “the walls of the classroom, the polarization and politicization that come from the realities of a pandemic feel crushing. The opinions around masks, quarantine protocols, and virtual learning have sowed deep-seeded divisions in our community.”

The letter in whole is below.

Dear MCS Families, 

This email is both about opening my heart to each of you and about the complex logistics of how we are managing a pandemic. Please don’t read this email looking for a new protocol or major change – it’s not here. However, I do offer continued transparency into our values and the alignment of such values to our COVID safety protocols. At the close of this email, I also detail additional steps MCS is taking to provide increased COVID testing for students, staff, and families.  

First, my heart. My hope was always that the opening weeks of the school year would be filled with the energy and excitement our children and staff so richly deserve. In so many ways, as I visit classrooms and walk the hallways, I feel our schools have accomplished just that – the love, learning, enthusiasm, and hope are stronger than I have ever seen, and it feels good to be back. 

And yet at the same time, outside the walls of the classroom, the polarization and politicization that come from the realities of a pandemic feel crushing. The opinions around masks, quarantine protocols, and virtual learning have sowed deep-seeded divisions in our community. With every email and phone conversation, I worry that the trust and confidence that we as a school district have tried to earn in recent months and years have eroded under the inability to agree on the available information and an unwillingness to see other points of view.   

I still believe our community is stronger than the pandemic; I also believe that, despite the many opinions, we can lead through this together with even more grace, understanding, patience, and resolve. We say that Marietta is special, different, and better – now is the time for us to show just that. 

To that end, this email outlines current MCS protocols and subsequent action steps intended to serve our community.  

Masks 
Masks continue to be optional and strongly encouraged in MCS. Before any consideration of changes to masking policies can occur, the MCS Board of Education has asked me to collect data that better identifies the degree to which we have school-based COVID transmission. We have an extensive contact tracing team dedicated to collecting data and communicating with families. In the first nine days of the school year, we had one epi-linked case of potential school-based transmission whereby we have confidence a student transmitted COVID to another student in a classroom. 

While this data may be encouraging, it is also misleading. Until we increase COVID testing, particularly of asymptomatic close contacts of a positive case, we can’t wave the flag of no school-based spread.  

As we continue to collect data, I will continue to wear a mask in schools and encourage others to do such as well. As I’ve been told numerous times by doctors and public health experts, the mask protects the wearer. Additionally, I wear my mask to protect my five-year-old daughter who is a cancer survivor; I also wear my mask so every child (like her) who wears a mask in school feels less isolated and less different because their superintendent looks like them. It’s not political for me; it’s about the children. 

Quarantine Protocol for Close Contacts 
Judging from my email inbox, the latest source of conflict is coming from opinions about whether or not students should be quarantined after being identified as a close contact. I recognize how both students and families are negatively impacted by a 7- or 10- day quarantine – the struggle is real. So, too, is the COVID delta variant. Our quarantine protocols cannot and will not be based on the inevitable frustrations and inconveniences that come from a pandemic. As we increase routine COVID testing in MCS and track data from quarantined staff and students, we will have a better picture of if and how we can modify quarantine protocols. Until then, we err on the side of caution and the protocols developed by public health experts. 

To those who are eligible for the vaccine and concerned about the impact of a quarantine – get vaccinated. As a reminder, those who are asymptomatic and fully vaccinated are not required to be quarantined after close contact with a COVID-positive person. 

Virtual Learning for Quarantined Students 
My promise to our MCS teachers was that we would be responsive to their fears and frustrations coming out of last year regarding virtual learning. To that end, we made a commitment not to ask teachers to teach in-person and virtually at the same time – it’s just too difficult. At the same time, we recognize that students and families have concerns about the continuity of learning when quarantined. Last week, each principal sent updated guidance on how we intend to strike the right balance between student learning and staff sanity. Once again, I thank you for your grace and understanding as we navigate through the peaks and valleys of a pandemic – your school’s teachers and administrators are working tirelessly to do right by your child. As you have specific questions or needs, please reach out to your school principal. 

COVID Testing for MCS Staff and Students 
Several weeks ago, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Georgia Department of Education offered to all Georgia school districts the opportunity to participate in routine COVID testing in schools. In the spirit of safety and transparency of data, MCS was one of the first to agree to participate. As we wait on state officials to finalize the details, we are preparing to offer free COVID testing for students and staff at each school each week. This testing is optional – families would be required to provide consent for their child to participate.  

Given the length and complexity of this email, look for a second email to come out today that asks each family to complete a survey indicating their potential interest in having their child participate in optional, routine school-based COVID testing. This information will be a starting point for health officials to determine how many tests we need at each school (so no child or staff member is turned away). 

COVID Testing for MCS Families 
Last school year, in an effort to address public health inequities in our community and provide convenience for families, we partnered with a local urgent care clinic to offer free COVID testing for MCS families at our Lemon Street campus. As that partner and many others are facing resource issues, we are pleased to announce that we have a new partnership with a local primary care practice to reinstitute COVID testing for MCS families.  

This partnership, which will also complement the partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health, is intended to help each of you in a time of need. Look for more details to come later this week as staffing and schedules are finalized. 

MCS Vaccination Clinics 
In partnership with Poole’s Pharmacy, we have offered 11 vaccination clinics to date; we will continue to do more to best serve our community. To that end, we are offering two more clinics at MHS and MMS for all eligible MCS students, staff, and families: 

MMS COVID Vaccine Clinic 
Thursday, August 26, 2021 
3:00-4:30 pm
Marietta Middle School Big Blue Gym 

MHS COVID Vaccine Clinic 
Friday, August 27, 2021 
3:30-5:30 pm 
Marietta High School Cafeteria 

The vaccine manufacturer for each of the above clinics is Pfizer. No pre-registration is required; however, to expedite your check-in process, please complete the online consent form. Should you have any questions or needs regarding the vaccine clinic, please email mcscovidvaccine@marietta-city.org 

Transparency of Data and Communication 
As I have done over the last 18 months, my promise to each of you is continued transparency and over-communication. As we increase COVID testing in our schools, we will have more accurate and reliable data to make decisions and, if appropriate, modify safety protocols. I recognize the community transmission data is compelling and the school-based transmission data is potentially misleading. Please know I will host staff meetings and community town halls as soon as I feel our data provides a more accurate picture to inform our community. Until then, you can refer to our weekly updates on our MCS website

In closing, I remind each of us once again that we are in this together, as one community, working to do our very best for our students and staff.

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