A decision by the school superintendent in Bulloch County has drawn both the ire of some in the community and the attention of the national media.
Bulloch County School Superintendent Charles Wilson sent out an email to teachers and staff on Thursday night with ‘words of encouragement’ for teachers after conferring with school system principals. In his email, Wilson said the school system would allow the teachers to “enjoy the liberty of wearing jeans for the next month” as a small token of appreciation for their continued perseverance of navigating education during a pandemic. Wilson also stated that everyone receiving the email was an angel and a hero that is needed by the children.
The email ignited a firestorm on social media almost immediately. Upset teachers and parents called the gesture insensitive and unbelievable. “[A] glimpse into why I needed to pull my kids out of BCSS last year and it’s only gotten worse,” one parent said. Another asked why the school system wouldn’t go fully virtual.
Bulloch County Covid-19 cases have been on a steep incline since the beginning of August, which many credit to the lack of mask mandates in schools, a quarantine policy that is only required if a child is showing symptoms, and a low countywide vaccination rate – under 30%. Bulloch County is also home to Georgia Southern University. While the number of deaths have creeped up, the spike in cases has stressed the healthcare system in the county, which is treating an average of 70 Covid-19 patients per day. At least 15 patients have been on ventilators at East Georgia Regional Medical Center every day for the last two weeks.
A number of people in the community posted that they had contacted Vanity Fair, The Daily Beast, and other outlets. By Friday afternoon, the email had been picked up by Charles Bethea, Atlanta-based writer for the New Yorker. He shared the email along with the forecast for Bulloch County, suggesting it was too hot for jeans. Not long after, the piece ran on The Daily Beast: Georgia School Official Responds to COVID Crisis With ‘Tone Deaf’ Blue Jeans Proposal and was subsequently picked up by USA Today.
This weekend, a Letter to the Editor also appeared in the Statesboro Herald criticizing the email: “Positive thoughts and blue jeans don’t help our educators.” The letter, penned by Jane Altman Page of Statesboro, said teachers are afraid to speak up from fear of losing their jobs. She cited the seven clergy members that recently met with the superintendent over instating a mask mandate and said “We must do everything we can to protect those who work and learn in our system and to support our healthcare workers who are pleading with all of us to take the necessary steps to diminish this overwhelming crisis.”
A post by a Georgia Southern professor Saturday morning said there is no hope for change because the superintendent “lacks vision and he board members seem limited in their capacity to override much of the superintendents actions or failure to act.” She then went on to call for removal of Wilson based on “immorality, misconduct, insubordination and incompetence or willful neglect.” Parents on the Bulloch County Schools Facebook page suggested that all fully-vaccinated students stage a walkout as well.
But not all of the community opposes the policies imposed by the Bulloch County Board of Education. Parents commented on social media posts by the school system thanking them for the ‘optional approach.’ “I have 4 grandchildren in Bulloch Schools…if you feel the need to send your child/children to school wearing a mask, that is your choice. Do what you feel is necessary for your family,” one wrote. Others said “I’m so happy our schools will stay open! These kids need this” and “Thank you BCS for all your hard work this year and last year in these unprecedented times! It doesn’t go unnoticed! Also, a HUGE thanks for not enforcing masks and keeping our schools open!”