A whistleblower email account created by a Georgia lawmaker for students, teachers and bus drivers to report unsafe school conditions is deluged with 800 complaints and counting.
As primary schools and universities kick off fall programs with in-person classes or both live and virtual options, coronavirus infections have exploded among students, teachers and administrators, prompting large quarantines or periods of isolation. Lawmakers in California, New Jersey and Florida are clashing with families and teachers over how to safely attend school, and in Georgia, leaked photos of students flouting safety rules at two school districts have become cautionary tales.
One of those photos, from a Paulding County School District teen who was temporarily suspended, prompted state House Rep. Beth Moore of Georgia’s 95th District to take action. On Aug. 7, she created the email account firstname.lastname@example.org, welcoming photos, videos or testimonies of “unsafe conditions” that may put people at risk for contracting the virus.
“I’ll give you the anonymous cover you need if you’ve been threatened with ‘consequences,’” she tweeted.
I've set up a whistleblower email - email@example.com - for #Georgia students, teachers & admins to share photos, videos & testimonials of unsafe conditions at school. I'll give you the anonymous cover you need if you've been threatened w/ "consequences." #gapol #paulding https://t.co/GcKJAnC78u
— Beth Moore, GA House Rep HD-95 (@MooreForGeorgia) August 7, 2020
Moore was referring to reports of a North Paulding High School announcement that threatened “consequences” for “negative” footage taken at the school, according to WGCL-TV in Atlanta, which obtained an audio recording. Yahoo Life reached out to North Paulding High School for comment but did not receive a response.
“I wanted to create a safe haven for students, facility and bus drivers — those working within these environments are the best people to share these conditions,” Moore tells Yahoo Life. “I thought most of the emails would be from students, but the vast majority are from teachers.”
Moore has received more than 800 messages, many of which she quotes on Twitter. One, from a medically high-risk teacher in Gwinnett County Public Schools, cited colleagues “who are pulling their hair out right now riddled with anxiety” over in-person classes. Another, from a bus driver in the same school district, expressed worry about a mandate to drive students regardless of whether they wear masks. “This is unacceptable for the GCPS administration to treat school bus drivers as if we were expendable,” read the email Moore shared.
Gwinnett County Public Schools did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.
Another teacher from a “North Georgia school district” told Moore, “I am planning for 27 students in my tiny classroom. They are not making masks mandatory. My principal is joking to people that this is ‘god's cleansing plan.’” On Aug. 9, Moore called the anecdote the “worst testimony so far.”
According to Thursday data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, the state has more than 246,000 positive cases and more than 4,900 COVID-19 deaths. An Aug. 16 White House report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ranked Georgia the No. 1 state for most new cases per 100,000 population and ninth for highest test positivity in the previous week, recommending a statewide mask mandate.
"I'm a combat vet who served in Afghanistan. I made the career switch to edu bc I believe deeply, fiercely, in the promise & necessity of public edu. I did not sign up to be a martyr; if I wanted to die at work, I would have stayed in the military." #Georgia #Gwinnett #gapol pic.twitter.com/hj7tYatrbj
— Beth Moore, GA House Rep HD-95 (@MooreForGeorgia) August 13, 2020
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has largely resisted imposing that mandate, even filing a lawsuit (which he later dropped) against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for her city mask rule. However, this week, Kemp signed an executive order that would give local governments the power to enforce mask wearing — if they choose — in areas with high infections.
Moore verifies the identifies of her sources by requesting, for example, a photo of their school badge, and gets permission to share their testimonies. When asked, she omits names; otherwise, people write from anonymous email accounts. “Sometimes people don’t want to disclose where they work,” says Moore.
One teacher forwarded Moore an email chain from school administrators vetoing her plea to install plexiglass barriers in her classroom, even if she pays for the equipment herself. “The fact that we have so many teachers in Georgia who are afraid of losing jobs if they speak out [shows] that the culture of fear and intimidation is almost as bad as the virus itself,” says Moore.
Parents have called Moore a “snitch,” a “tattletale” and even “Hitler,” which she can’t comprehend. “What these people don’t understand is that I am trying to protect their children,” she says. “If they want to preserve face-to-face teaching, they should join me so they don’t see the infection and quarantine rates go up.”
However, Moore’s tip line is catching on throughout the country — people in Maine, Texas and Florida have asked her for tips on establishing their own whistleblower accounts. “My role is simple: to give a voice to people who feel as though they can’t speak up or who are bullied for raising concerns,” she tells Yahoo Life. “To get the word out about what’s happening in schools.”
Yahoo Life reached out to Kemp for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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