CCSD HVAC protest: 10/19/20

A protester in a car caravan holds a sign saying "Updated HVAC Now." Around 15 cars participated in a caravan protest outside the Clarke County School District office to protest air quality in the schools during COVID-19 on Oct. 19, 2020. (Photo/Henry Queen)

Drivers participating in a car caravan protest hoped to get the attention of the Clarke County School District outside the district’s offices Monday afternoon. The only immediate attention they received, however, was from a Cookout employee who threatened to call the police for the noise generated by about 15 honking horns. 

Community members drove around the area near West Broad Street and the Clarke County district offices three times while holding signs out of their car windows. Messages included “End culture of silencing teachers” and “Updated HVAC now.” 

Event organizer and CCSD community member Jami Mays requested detailed audits of air conditioning units in schools like Clarke Middle, part of which was built in 1959. 

Students and teachers shouldn’t sit in stagnant air during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mays said. The district’s most recent letter to parents said all ventilation systems are updated and will be monitored frequently. 

CCSD announced on Oct. 9 its intention to return to the classroom starting Nov. 9. Only students in grades Pre-K through eighth grade are scheduled to return. Plans for high school students are still up in the air. 

The deadline to choose between in-person and virtual learning passed Sunday. Mays said families didn’t have enough information to make that decision. She wanted plans to include guidelines for capacity in classrooms and how students will social distance. 

“I’m speaking directly to Brannon Gaskins, Lynn Duke, Dr. Xernona Thomas and the school board: Something has to change,” Mays said. “You are pushing high-quality and award-winning teachers and admin out of this district. Your actions have driven many families to withdraw from our schools. Your actions have left countless students with disabilities floundering without access to adequate therapies and services.” 

CCSD District 2 representative Antwon Stephens attended the protest in support. He said the CCSD Board of Education needs to be more involved in the process. 

The board needs one more vote to schedule a special called meeting to discuss school reopening, he said. 

"I had to show up here today because this is about equity,” Stephens said. “I’m hoping our school administration finally listens.” 

The protest was live streamed on Facebook, where it received about 500 views as of press time. Mays said the line of communication in CCSD is broken. Community members only receive important data, Mays said, after she or someone else files an open records request.

“This has been the pattern the whole summer… Parents are having to hold the school district officers accountable,” Mays said. “I believe that’s the school board’s job, and I don’t think they’re doing their job.”