Though the latest report of COVID-19 cases in the Lumpkin County School System has been released, superintendent Dr. Rob Brown declined The Nugget’s request to report up-to-date numbers in the print edition this week, taking issue with recent coverage of the school system.
“The last time we shared data with The Nugget directly, the data was used for an online article with a headline that created unnecessary fear and panic,” Brown stated in an email on Monday.
As a result, this week’s print edition contains last Thursday’s COVID-19 case count while more recent numbers were released Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after The Nugget’s press deadline.
Brown’s complaint is in reference to The Nugget’s August 7 story, “Numerous Lumpkin teachers test positive for COVID-19 as first day approaches,” where it was reported that 25 employees of the Lumpkin County School System had tested positive for COVID-19, with four others awaiting their results.
Hours after the story was posted, Brown sent an email to The Nugget and each member of the Board of Education, declaring his disappointment with the story’s headline.
“I do not appreciate The Nugget's online headline of ‘Numerous Lumpkin Teachers Test Positive for COVID-19 as First Day Approaches,’” Brown stated in the August 7 email. “This type of headline caused undue fear and panic in the minds of many Lumpkin County students and parents...I am greatly disappointed in The Nugget's approach. It is my hope that The Nugget will choose to be a partner to our school system as we move forward in these unprecedented times.”
In the email, Brown also suggested alternative headlines for the story.
“A headline such as ‘LC Schools Closely Monitoring COVID Data’ or ‘Less than 5% of the 540 LC Employees Impacted by COVID’ could have shared the same information without causing undue fear and concern.”
The story was widely circulated online.
Brown indicated that the school system would be reporting its own numbers moving forward and pointed to the success of their previous social media posts.
“Our posts are reaching nearly 8,000 people within the first 48-72 hours they are online,” Brown said in a Monday email. “In addition, we have other methods to share information and communicate with our parents. As shared before, we will share our data directly with the community.”
The most recent update provided by the school system on Thursday, August 20 reported that 12 students and eight employees held a positive COVID-19 status. The graphic also stated that 103 students and two employees had been quarantined due to possible exposure.
On Tuesday, August 18 the school system reported that 10 students and nine employees held a positive COVID-19 status. At that time 85 students and one employee had been quarantined due to possible exposure, according to the posted graphic.
No school-by-school breakdown has been provided since the initial report by The Nugget.
Brown stated that the school system “will continue to post data twice a week so our community remains aware of the impact COVID is having on our schools.”
COVID-19 numbers will not be made available to parents, or any interested party, between the twice-weekly updates, said Brown.
"Our data is changing by the hour so any information we provided would not be current for long and would change before the end of the day," he said. "Current numbers are not readily available at any time for sharing."
He also stated that the announcements would not include a breakdown of cases by school, citing privacy concerns.
"We have to be very careful to not violate the privacy of students and staff who may be affected," Brown said. "With such extremely low numbers as they have been in some schools thus far, we want to avoid making it easy for individuals to be identified and their privacy violated."
Regarding the positive cases in the first week, Brown said it was to be expected.
“We knew it was likely that we would deal with positive COVID results in the first week of school and I am proud of how our staff responded,” he said.
BACK IN ACTION
Overall Brown said the system “had a fantastic first week of school.”
He credits the success of the first week to the teachers.
“Our teachers have been amazing,” Brown said. “They have adjusted to new expectations, new routines, and new instructional methods to better serve students. Our teachers are really the shining stars of our first week of school. They've rearranged furniture and utilized outdoor spaces to help with social distancing.”
Brown said challenges were handled well by both students and staff throughout the first week.
“It was a challenge for many students and staff to adjust by wearing a mask, but a majority made the necessary adjustment to know when it was needed and when it was safe to remove it,” he said. “The one-directional traffic was new to students, but they adapted quickly. The bottle filling and hand-sanitizing stations were used often and have proven to be a worthy investment. With changes to morning routines and morning procedures for students at the middle school, traffic in town quickly became a significant challenge. School administrators made some necessary procedural changes and traffic was improved by later in the week. We will continue monitoring for better ways to handle all of the new challenges.”