As COVID-19 cases decline in metro Atlanta, more school districts are rolling out plans to bring students back in person.
The Cobb County School District brought some students with special needs and students in grades prekindergarten through five back in person Monday. The district says 60% of elementary school students opted for face-to-face instruction four days a week. If the number of COVID-19 cases stays the same or decreases, Cobb plans to bring middle school students back Oct. 19 and high schoolers back Nov. 5.
“We absolutely understand that some families are not yet comfortable with a face-to-ace environment, and we will continue offering a virtual environment as an option for accessing the high level of teaching and learning Cobb has come to expect,” Cobb Superintendent Christopher Ragsdale said in a statement.
Atlanta Public Schools plans to take a similar approach, bringing elementary students and some with special needs back Oct. 26 if COVID-19 conditions stay the same or improve. Students who opt for face-to-face learning will attend school four days a week and work virtually from home on Wednesdays. According to the plan, students in grades 6-12 would return Nov. 16. The district says it will use public health data to decide whether it can go ahead with the plan Oct. 16.
At a school board meeting Monday, Atlanta parents and teachers expressed concerns about the plan, which the district updated since the last board meeting Sept. 23.
Parent Sara Zeigler said the new plan seems to favor parents, not teachers. She urged APS to take extra precautions.
“Hire more personnel into the school buildings to enable smaller groups of students,” she said. “Ensure that even in middle and high schools that students and teachers will be able to have social distance; create more outdoor classroom spaces; ensure that all windows open and all buildings provide mask face shields and other protective equipment; require face masks to be worn at all times and have a plan for enforcing those masks.”
Hundreds of parents, APS staff and community members signed a letter to district officials urging them to slow the plan down. The group’s requests include starting with fewer students (grades pre-K through second instead of pre-K to five) and prioritizing students who are most in need of in-person instruction.
“Ask teachers and administrators who work with the students to identify those students who need to come back…as opposed to letting parents decide,” said Jennifer Richmond, a community member in attendance.
APS has asked parents to fill out an “Intent to Return” declaration by Oct. 12.
“If you do not complete the form, what will happen by default is that you will remain in the virtual model,” said APS Superintendent Lisa Herring.
Meanwhile, districts like Fulton and Gwinnett are entering the later phases of their reopening plans. However, they’re structured differently from APS and Cobb.
Gwinnett began phasing students in Aug. 26, starting with grades kindergarten, 1, 6, and 9. On Sept. 9, the district rolled out the final phase, which brought students in all grades back in person. Families also had the option to continue with virtual learning. Some Gwinnett teachers said they had safety concerns about students returning in person so soon.
Fulton began Phase IV of its reopening plan Monday, but students who opt for in-person learning attend classes only two days a week. They participate in virtual learning the rest of the week.
Some Fulton teachers staged a walkout in September after sending a letter to district officials expressing their concerns about the plan. Fulton Superintendent Mike Looney appeared on “Closer Look” with Rose Scott this week to give an update on how the plan is going.