Charter school head, Savannah-Chatham superintendent trade blows on school’s zero COVID-case claim

By Barbara AugsdorferPosted Sep 21, 2020 at 11:45 AM   

At least one charter school is not happy with District Superintendent Ann Levett’s remarks near the end of last Wednesday’s school board meeting.

Barry Lollis, executive director of Savannah Classical Academy, addressed the board reiterating the success the school has experienced with a combination of in-person and virtual learning.

He stated that by following stringent protocols, there have not been any positive COVID-19 cases among students nor staff at SCA, which opened for classes on Aug. 19.

Near the end of the meeting last Wednesday, Levett indicated that she did not believe him.

“I believe firmly in our operations staff and teachers to follow the stringent guidelines to maintain a safe and healthy environment in every classroom and every office. Their work is thankless,” Levett began.

“However, even without their extraordinary effort, it is not guaranteed that COVID-19 won’t infiltrate our schools and offices and be spread between students and staff. And if anyone operating a school is reporting that they have not had any cases, I can guarantee you that is not correct. In fact I believe that most of us can agree that an outbreak on some level will be likely.”

Lollis forwarded to Savannah Morning News the email exchange he had with the district office on Thursday and Friday. “As you know, I am the ranking administrator for Savannah Classical Academy. Just before you offered your guarantee, I reported to the board of education [that] we have not had any positive COVID-19 cases of employees or students at SCA,” Lollis stated in his email to Levett on Thursday.

“Please share with me your guarantee. Consider this as an open records request for any document/items you have supporting your claim that a[n] SCA student or employee has tested positive for COVID-19.”

Lollis expressed frustration with Levett’s comments and challenged her or the district staff to produce evidence if they knew of any positive COVID case at SCA. “We have no known cases here. If you possess evidence of an employee or student that has tested positive for COVID-19 and are withholding that information, you are undermining our mitigation protocols and jeopardizing the safety of others.”

Lollis also said that Levett’s comments are hurtful to district staff. “Your actions of making that targeted comment today exemplifies the retribution many staff members have currently and have historically feared in this school system when speaking conversely to [the] administration’s top-down agenda. That same fear was discussed in today’s meeting by board of education members. You showed your hand today.

“I encourage you to seek the truth. You may not like the truth, but it is still the truth.”

As of Friday afternoon, Lollis is still waiting for a response from Levett, but he did hear back from Brian Dennison, the assistant school board attorney on Friday morning. “I am not aware of any record in the district’s possession that reflect or record an instance of COVID-19 involving an employee or student of Savannah Classical Academy,” Dennison’s email stated.

″[It] was just a bold claim she made in the capacity of a superintendent. And to me, that was damaging to the credibility of me as a school operator in the classroom,” Lollis’ email continued. “And I hope that they correct that misinformation.”

″[Levett’s] statement was made to illustrate to the board and public at large that as we open our schools, we as a leadership team, are fully aware of the strong likelihood for COVID cases to occur, even with the strongest of mitigation protocols in place,” the school district said in a statement on Friday.