Seeks equal & appropriate enforcement across the state

Bulloch County Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson sent correspondence to Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), on Thursday, which asks for immediate revision of the DPH’s Administrative Order for Public Health, and further seeks equal and appropriate enforcement of the order across the state.

Wilson expressed in the letter’s opening paragraph that, “On behalf of Bulloch County Schools and its stakeholders, I respectfully request that you immediately revise the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Administrative Order for Public Health (Administrative Order) to include language that allows PK-12 students in the state ‘who are wearing a mask at the time of close contact in a school setting with a COVID-19-positive individual, and who then continue to wear a mask when not able to maintain a six-foot distance from others, and who also remain asymptomatic during the typically designated quarantine period, be allowed to remain in school for the sake of their academic, extracurricular, and social-emotional wellbeing’.”

The letter is the latest in a series of actions in Bulloch County that began October 8, which seek to modify how students are quarantined.

The Bulloch County Board of Education (Board) unanimously voted (8-0) to approve a motion by its District 4 member, April Newkirk, that immediately directed the school district to change its quarantine protocol, which resulted in an ongoing effort of clarification over the past several days.

This Board action was later temporarily suspended on October 14, after Superintendent consulted with the school district’s legal counsel, as well as Board Chairman Mike Sparks and Vice Chairman Heather Mims, regarding a letter addressed to Chairman Sparks from the DPH in which Commissioner Toomey requested that the Board, “immediately rescind the action taken on October 8, 2020, to eliminate quarantine requirements,” and cited compliance with guidance issued from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the DPH, as well as the legal requirements within the DPH’s Administrative Order issued on July 28, 2020, as the basis for the request.

Wilson’s response to Commissioner Toomey’s letter expresses a frustration felt by him and other school administrators across the state that the Administrative Order does not ensure respect for parent choice, nor is it enforced equally and appropriately across the state

“While we are all struggling through this pandemic together and regularly adjust to conditions of uncertainty, citizens of our local community, particularly those who desire to responsibly exercise the fundamentals of liberty so dear to all of us, are suffering, and the future of our children’s learning and overall wellbeing are at risk,” Wilson writes in the letter.

Wilson also requested that “any Administrative Order, current or future, regardless of its language, be equally and appropriately enforced across the state.”  

Wilson referenced that in Georgia communities and schools there are instances of open defiance to the DPH Administrative Order.

“It is my understanding that these violations are being conducted directly and indirectly across the state and even in this local community.”

The Bulloch County Board of Education may discuss Commissioner Toomey’s October 13 letter at its scheduled work session on October 22.

“While I cannot speak for what future action our board will take, I believe I understand the spirit and intent of their decision, and I also believe they are supportive of my two requests to you (Dr. Kathleen Toomey) as outlined above,” Wilson wrote.

Wilson believes that the spirit of the Board’s action was to prevent learning disruptions, loss of extracurricular involvement, and avoid negative social and emotional effects that multiple quarantines have on students. Some parents’ comments at the October 8 meeting also expressed a desire to restore parent choice for those who had selected face-to-face instruction for their children. It was noted that some students had experienced three quarantines, which removed them from school six of the eight weeks that school had been in session.

Wilson emailed the letter to Commissioner Toomey Thursday afternoon and copied the local board of education chairman, the governor’s office, members of Bulloch County’s legislative delegation, and the director of the Southeast Health District.