Cherokee Schools Employee Died From Coronavirus: District

CHEROKEE COUNTY, GA — Following several online rumors regarding the Cherokee County School System, the district has set up an online fact versus fiction web page.

“In these times of ‘fake news’ circulated on social media and ‘unofficial’ social media groups, this new web page is a place where you can find accurate information in a timely manner,” the district said Thursday. “This is an expansion of CCSD’s long-standing commitment to transparency and accountability and a part of our nationally recognized open CCSD transparency project and web page.”

One of the most notable questions on the site is about a Cherokee Schools employee dying from complications from the coronavirus.

The district said it, like any employer, must follow federal privacy laws regarding employees’ health information. But the district said it did announce during the July 9 school board meeting that an employee passed away earlier this month from complications related to COVID-19.

“The employee’s name intentionally was not shared publicly and will not be shared publicly due to federal privacy laws,” the district said. “In keeping with standard protocols within our organization for the internal distribution of news about the passing of employees and employees’ immediate family members, we did not disclose the cause of death in the emailed notice as is our practice and in keeping with the family’s wishes. However, in this case, and in all instances when a current employee passes, the employee’s coworkers were aware of the cause of his death.”

The Department of Public Health protocols for testing positive for the coronavirus were followed for notifications to potentially exposed coworkers and required quarantines, the district said. The same process for notifications and quarantines will take place should there be future incidents of active employees testing positive. If an employee in a school and/or student tests positive while school is in session, Cherokee Schools said it will follow the Department of Public Health protocols for notification and quarantines.

“Members of our CCSD family care deeply about their coworkers,” the district wrote. “Do not mistake our organization’s efforts to protect an employee’s and families’ privacy for a lack of care. It is incredibly unfortunate that citizens in our community would allege otherwise, with some even crossing a line we feel disrespects this man’s memory and his family and friends.”

The other rumors addressed by the district include:

  • FICTION: I’ve heard that CCSD deleted all the social media posts about school reopening, is that true?

  • FACT: Yes – those posts were deleted due to the volume of comments spreading misinformation about the plan and about COVID-19, as well as inappropriate language, libelous comments, defamatory comments, trolling and combative posts between citizens, and otherwise unacceptable behavior. CCSD has posted guidelines as to how users can interact with our social media accounts (posted on our website as well as on the account profiles); and we reserve the right to hide comments, delete comments and block users. CCSD also reserves the right to delete our own posts – there is no law requiring we have a social media presence nor is there a law stating we cannot delete our own posts. The video was uploaded to the CCSD website and is posted on both the meeting agenda webpage and our Open CCSD webpage, where we always post the video from the most recent meeting. The CCSD Reopening of School Plan and the FAQs are on our webpage and remain accessible to the public.

  • PERSPECTIVE: We appreciate feedback from our community, including criticism and differences of opinion; however, our accounts exist to communicate accurate information – these are not a free-for-all forum for users to post misinformation, make libelous and/or defamatory comments about CCSD employees or students, or attack each other.

  • FICTION: I’ve heard that CCSD deleted the video from its last School Board meeting, is that true?

  • FACT: No; while there were technical issues during the July 9, 2020 meeting with the initial live-streaming platform due to demand, CCSD immediately began a second live stream on Facebook. The Facebook video was downloaded and uploaded onto our website, where it is both posted on the meeting agenda webpage and our Open CCSD webpage, where we always post the video from the most recent meeting. Through the CCSD platform, 3,225 people were able to view the July 9 meeting; and the Facebook live stream had viewership of 2,700 people at its peak.

  • PERSPECTIVE: CCSD is not required by law to live stream or record School Board meetings nor is it required to post and/or archive videos of its meetings. In recent years, CCSD has recorded these meetings as an additional effort to increase transparency. For the July 9, 2020 School Board meeting, while not legally required, live streaming was added for the first time to allow for greater access, due to the fact seating was limited to meet the Governor’s social-distancing mandate for public meetings. As these mandated measures remain in place, live streaming again will be used for the July 16, 2020 School Board meeting, and CCSD will use a different platform to accommodate for viewers.

  • FICTION: I’ve heard that the Superintendent is getting a 22% raise in the 2020-21 budget?

  • FACT: The Superintendent is receiving the same “step” salary increase as all eligible full-time CCSD employees, which, on average is 3%. With that step increase ($7,231), his proposed FY2021 base salary is $248,251. The total cost for all CCSD employee “step” increases, as noted in the budget’s Executive Summary on page vi, is $4.1 Million. From a budgeting and reporting perspective, new reporting changes from the IRS require reimbursable expenses (the Superintendent’s contractual benefits such as car allowance and travel expenses) be reported as salary expenses. As a result, those reimbursable expenses that total $47,650 and previously were reported and denoted under other Functions elsewhere in prior budgets, now must be added to his reported compensation as salary. We also believe this is a more transparent way of showing the public the total compensation for the Superintendent, rather than dividing it over multiple budget categories.

  • PERSPECTIVE: The CCSD Superintendent is CEO of Cherokee County’s largest employer, with 5,000 employees. The CCSD Superintendent salary is actually below market for superintendents of similar school districts in Metro Atlanta. (CCSD is in the top 10 largest districts in Georgia, however both superintendents of districts closest in size reported a 2019 base salary of $308,000 and $300,000) and significantly less than CEOs of businesses of the same size. Specific to current Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, he has 35 years of experience in education, holds three education degrees, and is in his fifth year as a superintendent, which exceeds the national average.

  • FICTION: I’ve heard that School Board Members are getting a raise in the 2020-21 budget, is that true?

  • FACT: School Board Members are not getting any raise in compensation at all. School Board Member compensation is determined by local legislation sponsored by Cherokee County’s State Representatives and Senators; in 2017, it was set at $1,000 per month for each of the six Board members and $1,200 per month for the sole Board Chair, and has not been changed. This annual cost is $86,400 for all seven School Board members. New reporting changes from the IRS required this total to be reported in a different part/Function of the budget beginning at the start of the calendar year.

  • PERSPECTIVE: The compensation levels for Cherokee County’s School Board Members are significantly less than those of similar size school districts.

  • FICTION: I’ve heard that the supplemental pay teachers receive for coaching sports or leading programs like band is being cut, is that true?

  • FACT: No – we are making a change to how frequently these supplements are paid, but all staff will continue to be paid for services provided to students. The payment schedule is the only change for the 2020-21 school year; this is an internal process decision, that can be changed in the future, if needed. This change is needed to avoid having to collect payments made when services were not rendered, for example, if a coach steps back from coaching responsibilities before the season begins or mid-season. If an employee receives this money in advance for services not rendered, it must be repaid, which can cause a hardship.

  • PERSPECTIVE: We cannot, by law, pay staff for services not rendered. The only exception is if, in an emergency situation, the School Board approves a resolution allowing for pay to continue. This is how CCSD was able to continue to pay staff during the school closures even if they were not actively working, such as school bus drivers and After School Program workers.

If you have a question for the district to consider, email it to communications@cherokeek12.net.

This article originally appeared on the Canton-Sixes Patch

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