Newton County teachers demand change in school district’s reopening plan

Two groups of protesters gathered outside of the Newton County Board of Education building before Tuesday evening’s scheduled meeting.

On one side, protesters held signs which read “face-to-face when safe” and chanting the phrase, hoping school leaders would make virtual learning the only option for the start of the school year.

On the other side of the building stood a group of counter-protesters, showing their support for the county’s current plan.

As of right now, Newton County Schools have given parents three options: in-person learning, virtual learning at the school’s pace, or online learning on one’s own.

Board members made it clear they’re listening to parents' and teachers' frustrations, and will make a change, but only if deemed absolutely necessary.

“I, too, have a child in the school system and I want my child to be safe as much as everyone,” the county superintendent, Samantha Fuhrey said.

“And if a decision needs to be made then it will be made and we will communicate it far and wide if we have to change course,” she said.

No other changes to the back-to-school reopening plan were announced through the meeting’s live stream.

That’s exactly what one group of protesters did not want to hear.

“It’s our job to think of their safety and health and they’re wellbeing. Statistically, there are more children who are going to be exposed to this. What’s Newton County going to do when a teacher or a student dies?” a teacher who asked FOX 5 keep her anonymous said.

Others, like Blake Alexander, who has worked for the district for nearly 10 years, support the option of returning to school in-person or learning virtually.

“A lot of students get all of their resources in a school setting. We have students who face neglect, physical abuse, so if we’re going to talk about the safety of our students then we need to talk about giving them the choice to be able to come to school or stay home,” he said.

School leaders acknowledged the divide at the end of their meeting Tuesday.

“We recognize teachers are uncomfortable, have processes in place to mitigate those circumstances,” Fuhrey said.

The superintendent assured parents and teachers watching the live stream that they’re working with the health department to make every decision and continue to monitor feedback.

“They sent out surveys asking us if we feel comfortable coming back. So, I think they’re going to work with the teachers who don’t want to come back that they can help the students who chose virtual. The ones who do want to come back can help those who want to come back,” Alexander said.

Of the estimated 12,000 Newton County student families, the superintendent says more than half surveyed said they want virtual learning.

School leaders say they will continue to call parents in the coming days to get a better sense of what’s best for each family.