Atlanta Public Schools says it will cautiously move ahead with plans to resume in-person classes next month. At a town hall Thursday, Superintendent Lisa Herring said the district plans to start phasing in students on January 19. The new semester starts on Jan. 5, but APS will still operate virtually at the beginning.
The district had planned to return to face-to-face classes in October but decided against it due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. Herring acknowledged conditions could be similar in January when coronavirus infection rates are expected to spike.
“After we’ve come off of a holiday break, we recognize that we are in a surge,” she said. “And yet research has been that much more robust.”
Some research has shown that outbreaks in schools usually come from the community. Researchers have said schools can mitigate the virus—by requiring face coverings and social distancing, for example—even if infection rates are high in the surrounding community.
Herring said APS has been consulting with public health experts to learn how to mitigate the virus once classes resume. She said the district has improved air and water quality and spent more than $68 million upgrading school HVAC systems.
“We’re committed to deep cleaning, sanitizing and fogging our buses and ensuring that that cleaning takes place at least twice a day in our schools, and even in our proposed schedule on…Wednesdays [which will be remote learning days] a deep cleaning of the building[s],” she said.
Herring said there’s always a chance plans could change if conditions worsen to the point where experts say it’s not safe to return to schools. But she said she’d like to resume in-person learning because so many kids have likely fallen behind during the pandemic.
“We’re focused on what we must do to account for learning loss because we own that that’s our reality, and that’s part of our most critical work,” she said.
Herring added that APS will provide supports for students who may have lost ground academically, including offering free summer school programs.
A note of disclosure: The Atlanta Board of Education holds WABE’s broadcast license.