Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said Thursday afternoon to the county’s Board of Education that in his decades-long career in public education, he’s never experienced anything like the past few weeks.
Roughly one week earlier, Gwinnett County Public Schools announced it was closing its buildings to teachers and students amid the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, GCPS has announced it will resume its second week of digital learning and meal deliveries to bus stops and 68 school locations on March 23.
The answers to a handful of community questions were left up in the air as GCPS leaders expressed Thursday that they’re exercising caution by releasing updates week-by-week.
“One of the things we’re pretty sure of, nobody has a good handle of what the next several weeks are going to look like,” Wilbanks said Thursday regarding the virus’ spread, which had a confirmed 287 cases in Georgia and 10 deaths. “We need to make plans for wherever we are … In 55 years, I thought I’d seen everything, and I’d never really seen something quite like this.”
Two Board of Education members called into the work session and business meeting, District III representative Mary K. Murphy and District IV’s Everton Blair, Jr.
The district’s Wednesday night announcement to students, parents, guardians and employees confirmed meal deliveries would continue free of charge on school days leading up to the beginning of the district’s spring break. In four days the district had served more than 100,000 meals to children under 18 at schools or bus stops.
As far as meals are concerned, there’s nothing official beyond March 27, the last day of classes before spring break. CFO Jeff Hefron said GCPS is receiving federal reimbursement to pay for student meals through its Seamless Summer program, which typically operates in clusters with high percentages of free and reduced lunch after school lets out. Hefron said GCPS has a schedule through March 27 and there will be no services during spring break.
“(Meal deliveries) are some of the things we’re trying to assess long term — if this goes out another week, three to four week or closer to the end of the school year — what viable options do we have to provide this?” Heffron said. “We’re asking — from the school nutrition standpoint — starting to reach out to our vendors and see what options they have and will they be able to provide the products and services to us.”
Heffron said GCPS leaders will reach out to vendors during spring break to see what they can continue to provide.
There’s still, too, uncertainty about how state decisions will affect GCPS employees and students. On Monday, the Georgia Department of Education announced it suspended all required state testing. The state has also suspended teacher and leader evaluation requirements.
Associate Superintendent Steve Flynt said the pandemic task force is working to address a range of community questions, including graduation and promotion criteria. Between March 23-27, GCPS will provide another update on the status of digital learning days and meal services following spring break. Flynt said there is no official update on promotion criteria, graduation ceremonies, summer school and camps or the start of the 2021 school year.
“We are planning for all of this, we just don’t know what’s going to happen and so it’s probably best not to speculate what we might do just yet,” Flynt said.
Flynt said there will be reduction in graduation requirements while state tests are suspended. He said the district is able to assess students’ “mastery of the Academic Knowledge and Skills” to promote students for the next school year.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments,” Flynt said. “I think the main thing we need to look at is the mastery of the Academic Knowledge and Skills.”