A Brave Conversation: Please Tell Our Governor: “Our district is not broken. Quit trying to fix us!”
I want to make sure the community is aware, that the Menahga School did not just accept the new regulations on face value. We have been lobbying the department of Education (MDE), county public health and our professional associations to make allowances for districts like us who have been successful in continuing in person education since the start of the year.
On December 18th, when the Governor announced his new restrictions, I immediately sent the following message to MDE, the county and my associations:
“Our district is one of many, mostly small and outstate schools, who have successfully implemented in-person and/or hybrid learning. Most of us have been doing this since the beginning of the school year. Now, as we are near the midway point of the school year, we have been handed six new mandates to fix a problem which, for us, is not a problem. I know I am not alone in my frustration. Many have even gone to distance learning due to close contact issues and are already on their way back. Few, if any, made the move due to transmission in the school.
I, and most of my colleagues, understand these new expectations allow metro districts which have been distance learning for the entire year to move into in-person learning. We support them and if these requirements help them be successful, we support them in that too. But we are not metro schools, and we do not have metro issues. My elementary classes are between 14 and 19 students. We can maintain acceptable group segregation and distances in classrooms, specialists and lunches. All of our practices have been approved and monitored weekly by our advisory team which involves public health and medical professionals. They have complimented our success. Our community is proud we are still in-person. Since we began contact tracing, we have had only one case which could possibly be attributed to transmission in our building. Our community spread is now on the decline. Adding these new requirements is frustrating to our staff and our community. When they ask why we have to implement these requirements, I cannot honestly give them a logical explanation based on our current data and success.
I am asking that the language in this part of the order be changed to "for any school which has already successfully implemented an in-person or hybrid model the new requirements be recommendations not requirements for districts as they continue to evaluate their plans." Please allow us the local control to use our local data to determine what is best for our district. If you cannot do this, please give me a logical response as to why we are adding burdens to our system when we have a plan which is already resolving the problem.”
As a result of this effort and the efforts of many other superintendents, we were successful in getting several of these restrictions changed to strong recommendations and we have been able to continue instruction in person the way we have been since September.
An exception to this relaxation of mandates is the masking requirements for students who are participants in extracurricular events, and beginning January 18th all students will be required to wear masks in physical education too.
So on January 12th, I sent the following questions to MDE and the same associations:
“Why are the rules changed from fall if we have had only one probable case of transmission in our school and it was not through an activity? I do not understand the move to masking during sports activities and physical education. The only study I found showed a transmission rate of 0.021% for fall when masking during competitions was not required. What is the scientific evidence being used for this new decision?” Other superintendents have added that none of our schools are seeing transmission during the school day at all including physical education.
I also asked: “Why is masking required in activities like basketball and not in wrestling. If masks are not necessary in wrestling with close and intense competition, why are other sports not held to that same standard? If masks are that important then why are we wrestling at all?”
This is not an argument against wrestling, I am happy our wrestlers can compete. This is an argument against the flaws in the logic of the governor and his advisors.
Today I add to my arguments “Our district is not broken, quit trying to fix us! We are not the Metro, quit treating us like we are.” Please allow us the local control to use our local data to determine what is best for our district.
As of the writing of this article, MDE has said no to any relaxation of any of these new masking rules.
I write this, because I want our community to know, we are fighting for what is best for kids’ education and mental health while keeping them safe. We have demonstrated for months now that we know how to do this well. There are only 22 schools in the state that have been teaching in-person K-12 since the start of school. We are proud to say Menahga is one of them. I also want you to know we are not in this alone. There are many other districts advocating for the same cause. We will follow the rules we have been handed, but we will not stop advocating for reasonable expectations for outstate schools.
I look forward to the days when we can just let kids be kids and schools be schools.
Until then, thank you for your support.
Kevin Wellen, Menahga Superintendent
Go Braves!.... and Warriors!