A survey is only as good as the controls it sets

Lunches have been packed, sleep routines reset, and spelling words called out since students returned to classrooms across Georgia. Now parents, teachers, and students are reviewing progress reports and sizing up what happens during the next half of the grading period.

This point in the school year also gives school leaders an opportunity to review what is working and what might need to be adjusted. During a pandemic, the ability for schools to pivot on a pinhead may be the difference between lives saved and lost.

On the afternoon of Thursday, September 9, 2021, Washington County Public Schools sent out a survey using a Google platform tool asking for feedback from the school community. The survey tool is one I have used as both an executive director and board president of nonprofits.

The school system’s email with the link to the survey was sent to me by parents in the community. The form didn’t ask for any identifying information: no name, email, address, phone number. It did ask if the person responding is a school employee. It could be filled out by anyone anywhere  who had the link. I filled it out and submitted it. Twice.

Friday morning when I returned to the link it said I had already submitted my answer. Fair enough. After poking around with it some during the second of many cups of coffee, I got this:

Washington County Public Schools survey
September 10, 2021

The survey showed my email address, but Google’s software told me it wasn’t collecting anything from my account.

This isn’t the first time the schools have sent out a survey without parameters set on who could fill out the survey, or requiring any identifying information, in order to submit the survey. Last school year I picked up the phone and ended up talking with Dr. Rickey Edmond, who assured me that they were able to collect identifying data even though none was require to submit answers. I told him having seen the backside of these surveys via my Google business account, I’d sure like to know how they were managing that, because it might help me in the future. All I got was, “We can.”

With the broad questions asked in last week’s survey, what can Dr. Edmond  the Board of Education, and school principals really take away beyond how smooth car pick up and drop off are, and general satisfaction with instruction? Is a blind survey the only way for school leaders to know how parents and employees gauge the school year to date? How confident can school leaders, parents, teachers, and students be that the survey sent out on Thursday has the controls and parameters to collect accurate information?

It will be interesting to see what Dr. Edmond and the Board of Education members share with the community. Based on recent inquiries by myself and others concerned about the system’s Covid-19 record-keeping and reporting, my confidence in the quality of information collected and shared by the school system is low. Will the results of a survey available to anyone with email be used to guide judgement impacting not only the education of every student, but the health of the entire Washington County community?

When schools think it is ok for a drunk to drive the school bus

Watching the schools prepare to reopen in rural Washington County Georgia is like watching someone pour gasoline on top of an already burning fire. As Covid-19 rates soar in a county that stubbornly refused to access tested and proven vaccines when a state-run vaccination site was set up in the county, the Board of Education is choosing the path of least resistance on healthy safety requirements.

The highly contagious Delta variant will find multiple classrooms ripe for explosive spread. The risk of exposure could be easily reduced if school leaders were willing to take one necessary step to protect those who cannot be vaccinated and those who refuse to be vaccinated-require masks in all indoor situations.

How bad is it in Sandersville and other communities in the county? Bad. Very bad.

Covid-19 risk of exposure, CDC tracking map

The CDC rates the risk of transmission as high. According to the CDC, the percentage of people in the county fully vaccinated is a dismal 7.7 percent despite the easy access to the vaccine provided by the state in the spring when eligibility was expanded. School age students between 12-18 years old are fully vaccinated at a rate of 9 percent. If teachers and staff are in the age group of 18-65, only 9.4 percent of that age cohort have chosen to be fully vaccinated before  returning to the classroom, cafeterias, hallways, and buses.

Yesterday the school system superintendent responded to an email I sent stating that they are following Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) recommendations. Choosing the Education link on the state’s site takes users directly to the CDC’s site, which recommends masking for all people in schools regardless of vaccination status or age.

Still,  Superintendent Rickey Edmond and the Board of Education are confident that letting 1405 students in the primary and elementary schools, 760 in the middle school, and 880 in the high school, sit in classrooms and move through hallways without a mask on is OK (because let’s be honest, it will not be possible to keep every child in a hallway distanced or properly masked).  There is a Virtual School option only offered to grades 5-12, with limited capacity and criteria for acceptance, that will have 20 students.

The reported cases of Covid-19 in the seven days preceding August 2 are up 161.54 percent. The percent of tests that are positive has climbed by  15.63 percent. Local hospital admissions are up a full 200 percent. Schools haven’t had the first student in a classroom and the caseload is soaring in a county with great doctors but limited hospital services.

Washington County GA school bus

Late yesterday, a news report posted on Georgia Public Radio’s site summed it for me. Amber Schmidtke, PhD., a microbiologist tracking and explaining Covid data for mere mortals like me, said, and I am adding emphasis to her statement”So when this starts to happen [children becoming sick and requiring hospitalization] in a bigger way in Georgia and kids who were previously healthy are on ventilators, I don’t want school superintendents to claim that there was no way this could have been predicted,” Schmidtke said. “We have plenty of warning that the situation in 2021 is more dangerous than a year ago for children. Willingly choosing to endanger children by not doing the bare minimum of disease control and prevention should be treated the same way as knowingly allowing someone drunk to drive a school bus and organizations that do so should be held to account.”

Teachers and staff are preparing now for open houses in Washington County schools, with classes starting Friday. In a community with a rising case load, doubled Covid hospitalizations, low vaccination rates, and school leaders willing to, as Dr. Schmidtke suggests, let a drunk drive the school bus, they are providing the ideal breeding ground for very sick children,  families, teachers, and staff.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A suggestion for Atlantans frustrated about access to vaccinations

Governor Brian Kemp’s administration has excelled at how to not handle this year-long pandemic. The roll-out of vaccinations has not been an exception to their poor performance in the past year.

That a vaccine is available is a surprise to no one, but the state’s preparation for access to shots has put us last in the country for success. Citizens are frustrated, and rightly so.

Kemp chose to base scheduling on a website and understaffed phone lines. People without internet or computer access have been limited to spending hours on the phone trying fruitlessly to get an appointment. Kemp  announced expanded eligibility for vaccines but the state’s website wasn’t updated to reflect that, which resulted in phone bank staffers turning away people trying to begin their vaccinations. What a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars and time.

Access to vaccine locations has been equally frustrating. The majority of vaccines have only been available in urban areas, leaving rural residents without reasonable access. Five state sites outside the perimeter of Atlanta, capable of serving thousands of people a day, will open today. Scheduling problems migrated to those sites as well.

Now that Kemp has opened up eligibility to more people, people in Atlanta are complaining that they can’t get vaccinated near their homes. Kemp is urging those people to drive to south Georgia for shots.

There are all kinds of reasons this isn’t helpful, particularly for rural Georgia.

With libraries closed, which often serve as the only point of access to the internet and computers for many small community residents, vaccine appointments remain a hurdle they cannot scale. Kemp should have ramped up phone capacity for appointments along with the addition of these new locations.

Most rural Georgia communities lack public transportation. Counties aren’t equipped to get people who lack transportation to vaccination sites. Shots in arms is critical to reducing case load, saving lives, and energizing our state economy, especially as the weather warms up and people think about vacations.

With newly expanded eligibility for vaccination, metro Atlanta residents are complaining about not being able to get their shot a few miles from home. Kemp ‘s best solution is to drive out of town for vaccines. Rightly so, people who don’t get paid time off from the one, two, or maybe three jobs they need to house, feed, and clothe their families, have every reason to be angry. But they aren’t the only ones complaining.

Covid-19 vaccination site, Sandersville, GA

This is my suggestion to people who do have reliable transportation, and can afford to, but don’t want to, take sick or vacation time and miss two days of work to get their shots-quit bitching. Your privilege is offensive to every rural resident who has gone without medical care because they didn’t have the technology available in their home for telehealth, the means to drive a considerable distance to see a specialist, get prenatal care, or visit someone they love who was out of town for care.

Rural Georgians have done without the medical care urban residents have since urban areas developed across our state. Small town Georgians have watched our hospitals close, medical services shrink, and doctors choose urban over rural for decades.

That rural communities have managed to feed themselves for a year  without the ease of Instacart or Door Dash is a testament to their abilities. There hasn’t been same day, or even next day, Amazon delivery for school and household supplies. Streaming anything on the web for entertainment, education, or work hasn’t been an option for too many families.

After all that we have managed to survive, having to drive out of town for a vaccine that will protect you, your family, neighbors, and coworkers, should be the last thing you complain about right now. Make an appointment, put gas in the car, choose some podcasts or audio books to listen to, and drive yourself to a place where people just as eager, but less privileged, have waited just as long as you have to get a vaccine.

Pulling the bandaids off in rural America

What rural communities lack in infrastructure is becoming very clear to elected leaders at all levels. The question that must be answered is whether those needs will be addressed and when.

The lack of fast affordable internet service in rural communities is now holding back teachers, students, and parents. Teachers don’t have access to broadband in order to log on and hold sessions with students. Students often don’t have internet access or a computer.

If you are looking for some good stocks to consider, this might be a good time to invest in the paper industry. Schools are making printed packets of work for families because online education in rural America isn’t an option.

Rural communities don’t have the luxury of Instacart and similar shopping and delivery services. There is no option to have groceries delivered to your front door. If driving to a store is the only option for rural households, the urge to stock up beyond a week’s worth of groceries is understandable when frequently used items are on store shelves.

Businesses trying to shift to online work face the same challenges as schools. A technology company I have relied on emailed customers two weeks ago offering not only online platforms for remote work, but refurbished laptops for employees to use while they work from home. The question remains whether there is internet access at the employee’s home.

While social media and news outlets fill space with ideas for streaming movies and television programs, rural America remains on the sidelines. There is no streaming of entertainment options without high speed internet. Libraries are closed and ball fields are vacant. Choices are so limited now.

The bandaids offered to rural America have been pulled off. Lessons are being taught about how we can better serve rural communities across our country. If the lack of resources in rural America are not addressed when we are able to paddle less frantically, the failure of elected leaders to respond nimbly and effectively should direct every voter’s choices.