Furlow emergency meeting regarding school closure; reversing Executive Director’s decision to close facility

Published 7:58 am Wednesday, January 12, 2022

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022, the Furlow Governing Board held an emergency called meeting to discuss an Emergency School Closure that was announced by Furlow’s Administration to parents that afternoon.

All seven board members were present along with Furlow’s Chief Financial Officer Stephanie Duff, three parents, and one teacher.  Georgia Charter School Association’s Eliza Falco joined the meeting via phone.  There were no Furlow administrators present at the meeting.

After calling the meeting to order at 5:00 p.m., Dr. LeJeune read information regarding the posting of the notice of the emergency called meeting.  He stated the purpose of the meeting was “to discuss the emergency school closure that was announced today, to discuss the circumstances of this closure, and to plan, as necessary, for the immediate future as it relates to that closure.”

Parent Wesley Walls addressed the board and focused on three concerns:

  • What data lead to the decision to cancel school for two days?
  • Are classrooms sanitized and fogged every afternoon per the approved Phased Pandemic Plan?
  • Can the board focus on Governor Kemp’s recommendations to schools regarding dealing with exposure cases and how contact tracing is optional and would the board use the recommendations to update the school’s current phased pandemic plan?

Dr. LeJeune started the Emergency School Closure Discussion by stating the Furlow Governing Board requested data to better understand the rationale behind the school closure (scheduled for Thursday, January 13 and Friday, January 14).

Dr. LeJeune presented the following information he received from Furlow’s Administration, since no Furlow administrator was present at the meeting in person or via phone:

  • Friday, January 7
    • Elementary – 1.87% COVID-related absences calculation
    • Middle/High – 5.34% COVID-related absences calculation
  • Monday, January 10
    • Elementary School – 7.34% COVID-related absences
    • Middle School – 5.34% COVID-related absences
  • Tuesday, January 11
    • Elementary School – 10.48% COVID-related absences calculation
    • Middle School – 3.37% COVID-related absences calculation
  • Since Tuesday, January 11 calculations, there have been 6 more quarantined students in elementary and 6 more quarantined students in middle/high along with 1 more student isolated in elementary and 1 more student isolated in middle/high.

Board Member Dr. Benjamin Meador stated two main things need to be resolved:

  • “The school is being closed on an emergency basis in the future.” His concern was if emergency conditions truly exist to close the school for two days, how it would be considered an emergency when the school closure is delayed (Thursday and Friday) and not immediate (school is still scheduled for Wednesday).
  • “I don’t understand why is there no instruction Thursday or Friday?” He stated due to the deep-cleaning, administration wanted everyone out of the building.  He felt cleaning should be happening already.

Dr. Meador, along with Board Chair Dr. John LeJeune, expressed their concerns about current research on COVID focusing on the length of time it is present on surfaces and the way COVID spreads, which would make closing school for two days for deep-cleaning unnecessary.

“It’s not the primary vector for this virus.  It’s not the root cause like cleaning door knobs is not why we have this problem…”

Board Member Allyson Drinnon expressed concerns about why the approved Phased Pandemic Plan was not being followed.

Board Treasurer David Luvin stated deep cleaning could have taken place during a 12-hour period after school without needing to close school.

Board Vice Chair Katie Minich stated there were three custodians out last week during the bulk of the spread and how Furlow’s Executive Director Dr. Lezley Anderson emailed her and Dr. LeJeune that 74.67% of scholars quarantined Tuesday were due to exposure at the school.

Board Member Jeanie Smith expressed concerns about how the deep cleaning would be different, if the same people would be doing the cleaning.

Dr. LeJeune read part of the letter from Furlow’s Executive Director that was sent to parents regarding school closure on Thursday and Friday and how “the reason [for closing] doesn’t make sense.”

Mr. Luvin stated there needs to be a policy change passed where the Furlow Executive Director needs to be required to notify the Furlow Governing Board in advance of parents and students being notified school closure.

Dr. LeJeune read from the current policy regarding school closures and encouraged the board to think about what the policy is trying to do: “The Furlow Governing Board authorizes the Executive Director or, if needed, Assistant Principal to suspend school operations or activities in the event of abnormal conditions, hazardous weather, or other emergencies that threaten the safety, welfare, or health of students or employees and to take whatever measures he/she deems necessary to protect students and staff.”

Dr. LeJeune expressed his concern about how the spirit of the policy is for unforeseen events and things the board couldn’t anticipate: “We knew COVID was coming, and we crafted a policy to address it.  There is actual policy guidance for how to address exactly what happened in terms of what was going on at the school.  That policy guidance, which the board has voted on multiple times, revised multiple times, updated multiple times says that starting tomorrow elementary should be in Phase 4 and middle/high should be in Phase 3.  If the argument for why this is an emergency condition and we have to throw the policy out is because of the need for deep cleaning and sanitation that argument doesn’t hold water scientifically.”

Dr. LeJeune expressed his concern that children will not receive instruction on Thursday and Friday.  Based on the current policy and numbers, Elementary should be in virtual learning and Middle/High would remain in Phase 3.

Board Member Katie Minich replied, “I don’t think we can go back after it has been announced.”

Board Member David Luvin said, “We certainly can.”

After Luvin asked if the days would have to be made up, Minich stated the days would not have to made up based on information she received via text from Dr. Anderson on the way to the meeting.

Dr. LeJeune said, “An emergency doesn’t become an emergency just because somebody says it’s so.”

Conversations continued regarding the spirit of the policy, whether or not the Furlow Governing Board should be contacted before school closure, what should be considered emergencies, and how policy allows the Executive Director to determine what the emergency is and then to make the judgment.

Board Member Allyson Drinnon expressed her concerns about why the Phased Plan was not being followed, “I didn’t see from her the rationale around what makes this an emergency.  I know she said it is an emergency, but the why it is an emergency was not clear to me when I looked at how the numbers fit in with the phased plan.”

Dr. Meador offered a hyperbole: “If Dr. Anderson said there is an emergency, we need to close the school, there was a mouse in the basement.  We’re going to close the school for three days.  We would say it’s policy…”

Mrs. Minich interrupted, “Of course, we could not do that.  I hope we wouldn’t hire an executive director that would do that.”

Dr. Meador told Mrs. Minich situations like this would happen if the letter of the law was followed, and the Executive Director was allowed to close school whenever she decided it was an emergency.

After Dr. LeJeune asked the board about the purpose of what they were doing, Katie Minich responded, “I don’t know! Honestly!  I don’t know why we are here without Dr. Anderson here, without someone from administration here when they told us in advance that they could not attend.”

Dr. Meador immediately made a motion to follow the phased plan that the board had previously agreed on.  Allyson Drinnon immediately seconded.

David Luvin wanted to be clear on following the phased plan that school would be open Thursday for middle and high and that teachers would be on campus Thursday and Friday.

Katie Minich voiced her concerns, “So, then we are going to have to notify the State Charter School Commission that oopsies we are not [closed].  That’s going to look wonderful for our school and our school board.  That’s going to be great!”

Dr. LeJeune responded that he didn’t care about how it looked and only cared about doing what was right.

With no more discussion, the Furlow Governing Board approved following the previously board-approved Phased Pandemic Plan 5-1 with Katie Minich voting against.

After the meeting, the board members were asked if Wednesday, January 12, was still going to be an optional attendance day.  The board members were not aware Furlow’s administration notified parents and told them they could keep children home Wednesday, and students would be allowed an excused absence.