When teachers at Dalton Public Schools held their August 5 back-to-school rally, known as the Convocation, there was celebration in the air.
A teacher took the stage and sang her own version of “Dancing in the Streets,” including lyrics that promised “to learn and share” and not to wear a mask. ‘”
The crowd at the convention center, mostly unmasked, cheered loudly, according to a social media video that was submitted as evidence in an Aug. 29 complaint filed with the US Department of Education.
Twelve parents in Georgia School District say schools’ response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic for the new school year is inadequate and has endangered public health by allowing families to opt out of mandatory self-care cover the face.
(READ MORE: Parents at Dalton Public Schools File Federal Complaint over Non-Attendance Masking)
Dalton Public Schools Superintendent Tim Scott said in a statement the district is doing everything in its power to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the school community.
Social distancing, limited use of school cafeterias, daily cleaning of schools, and the periodic use of an antimicrobial spray to kill viruses on surfaces are just a few of the steps he has taken to protect the community. school community, as well as the heating and air system. been ionized.
“Currently, we have 119 students who have chosen not to wear a mask out of our 7,554 in-person students, which means that 98.5% of our students wear a mask and only 1.6% have chosen not to. wear a mask, ”Scott said in the statement.
One of the parents who filed the complaint, Ashley Fleeman, said she was as concerned about the lax enforcement of COVID-19 policies as she was about what she saw as their relative lack.
Seeing teachers cut corners with COVID-19 protocols is a regular part of the pandemic in Dalton, she said, and she is not convinced that any change – no matter how well intentioned – can make a difference in an environment where personal choice has been prioritized over safety.
Her daughter was a student at Westwood Elementary School until recently, when Fleeman pulled her out of school.
Every morning, Fleeman said he saw unmasked teachers helping his daughter out of the car into the school building. As part of the district’s mitigation plan, these teachers were supposed to ask students a series of health screening questions before entering school. Fleeman said that didn’t happen most of the time.
Instead, the only question they asked was if her daughter’s answers were the same as the day before.
“They come up to the car without a mask and lean over and say, ‘The same answers as yesterday?’ It’s not enough, ”Fleeman said. “These students are young. They don’t know what the questions are. It’s not their job to know. Ask them. I know we’re all tired of being in a pandemic, but it’s not something thing we should call because we are tired of asking or wearing a mask This is my child’s life that we are talking about.
Problems with enforcing these rules don’t end, according to Fleeman, at the school’s front door. She said teachers who support masking told her they fear reprisal if they say they want students to wear masks or want to mask themselves in situations where others are not. Fleeman cites the summons as an example of the two complaints in action.
A video posted to Facebook shows hundreds of teachers and staff wearing district t-shirts talking and laughing together in a room with no masks in sight.
Classes started five days later on August 10. At the end of the first week of school, 16 staff at Dalton Public Schools tested positive for the virus. Among them was Sean Hammond, who died Monday after battling the virus.
Hammond was entering his freshman year at Hammond Creek Middle School this year as a special education teacher and attended three days of pre-planning and new teacher induction before testing positive.
Previously, he helped start the college football program and was part of the Dalton Cats Youth Football Program, where he stepped in to help whenever coaches were absent or unable to attend practice.
Hammond was known for the kindness he showed to students in the field, and although he did not officially start working in the classroom until his death, school officials said he was “incredibly talented. and passionate and good at building relationships with students ”.
Other members of the community also praised Hammond for his ability to make his players feel like family. Hammond Creek Middle School head football coach George Woods said he was heartbroken at the loss.
“Coach Hammond has been such an inspiration to our boys. Their play on the field over the past two weeks is a direct result of his training,” said Woods. “Our hearts are breaking for his son Marshall and the rest of Coach Hammond’s family.”
His wife, Heidi Hammond, is a teacher at nearby Murray County schools and has also tested positive for COVID-19. She is hospitalized and on a ventilator. Their son, Marshall, just turned 12. A donation fund has been established in his name at the First National Community Bank in Dalton. Contributions can be made by visiting any First National community bank in Dalton, Chatsworth, Eton, Calhoun or Cartersville.
Coach Woods said the community intends to support Marshall in any way he needs for as long as possible.
“We have a community of people who are going to raise Marshall, you know, be his high school dad and help him get through this,” he said.
No one knows how each of the Hammonds first caught the virus, but Fleeman said she and the other parents represented in the Department of Education complaint are concerned that the district’s mask policy is what is causing them. endangered first.
“This complaint was not filed due to his death, and I don’t mean that anyone is to blame for what happened,” Fleeman said. “What I mean is there are videos of him online at convocation with many staff and professors standing without masks. They even sang a song mocking the masks. . So far, the district denies any responsibility or that they contributed at all to his death. As a parent, this is extremely baffling. “
Superintendent Scott was not available for an interview on Thursday, however, a district statement said Hammond would be missed.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with all of Coach Hammond’s family and friends as we all mourn the loss of an extraordinary person,” the statement said.
As of Thursday, more than 200 cases of COVID-19 had been reported among students and staff at Dalton public schools since the start of the school year.
The entire district entered the second phase of its virus mitigation plan last week, meaning there was a moderate level of community spread throughout the district and the number of positive cases in each. school accounted for 2% or more of the total building population over five-day period.
Going forward, Scott said the district will continue to consult with the North Georgia Health District for up-to-date advice and information.
Contact Kelcey Caulder at [email protected]