Most Georgia public school districts switched to an online learning format March 16, when Gov. Brian Kemp ordered school buildings to shut down due to the coronavirus. Since then, the governor has said school buildings should remain closed for the school year.
On May 1, Gwinnett County Public Schools announced plans requiring staff to return to work in late May. The plan raised concerns among educators that the district could be risking its employees’ health.
Under the original plan, director-level staff members were required to return to their worksites Wednesday. Teachers were expected to return to their classrooms on May 18 and work there for a week.
GCPS spokeswoman Sloan Roach said the district was setting aside the time for students’ families to pick up personal belongings and return school items.
“It just makes a lot of sense for it to happen now, so that way we can begin looking to, ‘What are we doing for summer school?’” Roach said.
The district has since said it will conduct summer school programs online.
The Georgia Association of Educators said requiring teachers to return to school in the midst of a pandemic doesn’t make sense.
“What they are asking is those teachers themselves to come back and put themselves in jeopardy,” said GAE president Charlotte Booker. “If anybody has [COVID-19], then it could be spread, and you have many other people sick.”
After pushback from educators who said the move showed a lack of concern for employees’ well-being, GCPS modified the plan Wednesday.
The new plan won’t require teachers to report to schools on certain dates. Instead, the district says principals will work with teachers to set up times they can return to school buildings to close down their classrooms.
Some administrators returned to work Wednesday as originally scheduled, but GCPS says officials are adjusting schedules to limit the number of employees in each location.
GCPS said the changes should let staff members close out the school year while also addressing their health and safety concerns.
However, the GAE issued a statement opposing the new plan. The organization said it’s still too soon to ask teachers to return to worksites and that schools should only reopen when “absolutely necessary.”