The Gwinnett County schools will resume in-person classes for all grades Wednesday. The district has used a phased-in approach, with some grades returning Aug. 26. More grades joined them on Sept. 2. Now, all students have the option to return. Alternatively, they can choose to continue with remote learning. In many cases, though, teachers have to teach face to face.
So far, Alexis Pritchett, an 8th-grade science teacher in Gwinnett, has been teaching students remotely. She’ll continue to do that, while also teaching students in person. Her school chose to use a ‘concurrent’ approach, meaning she’ll teach remote and in-person students at the same time. Still, Pritchett thinks it’s too soon for students to return.
“I desperately want kids back in my classroom,” she says. “It hurts me to know that I’m not able to provide the best instruction that I can to these kids. But one of the first things that we learn as educators is that we have to keep kids safe before they can learn, and my fear is that kids coming back into the building is not safe. So I’m opposed to that.”
The district has said in-person learning will depend on COVID-19 conditions in the county. Although numbers have improved somewhat recently, Gwinnett still has one of the highest infection rates in the state.
Pritchett says the decision to return in-person seems arbitrary, instead of based on data.
“I have to teach that basic skill to my middle schoolers,” she says. “They make a claim, and they support it with evidence, it’s not enough to state a scientific fact. You have to support it with evidence. And we’re not being given that.”
Students will be required to wear face coverings and schools will ramp up cleaning efforts. Still, another Gwinnett teacher, who doesn’t want to be named, says she’s also worried about safety.
“We are not able to properly social distance in our classrooms,” she says. “So I am concerned for myself because I have preexisting conditions and my family, they’re in the high-risk category. So I’m scared of contracting COVID.”
Like Pritchett, she says it’s not that she doesn’t want to teach. She just doesn’t think face-to-face learning is safe yet.
“I understand that when I walk into a building every day, there is a chance that I will take a bullet for one of my kids,” she says. “There is a difference between a freak accident and making a conscious decision every single day to put my life on the line.”
The district has said leaders continue to hold discussions about how to address safety concerns of families and employees.
Gwinnett isn’t alone in its efforts to bring students back in person. The Fulton County Schools and Marietta City Schools began phased-in plans Tuesday. The Cobb County School District plans to start bringing students back Oct. 5. Three Cherokee County high schools have reopened under a hybrid model where students attend in-person a few days a week and participate in remote learning the other days. Three schools in Paulding County are also using a hybrid system. The Forsyth County Schools let students choose between face-to-face and remote learning when classes resumed last month.