Superintendent reassures district at virtual town hall

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen demonstrates the type of food assistance APS provides to needy families during a virtual town hall meeting on March 26.

Dana Richie

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen demonstrates the type of food assistance APS provides to needy families during a virtual town hall meeting on March 26.

Dana Richie

In a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen explained district policy regarding COVID-19 in order to address common concerns: food distribution, internet access and scheduling.

Food Distribution

Up until the first weekend of spring break, APS will continue making daily food deliveries along middle school bus routes. The district  will continue to serve meals provided by APS nonprofit partners Goodr and Atlanta Community Food Bank at the five anchor sites: Bunche Middle School, Cleveland Avenue Elementary School, Douglass High School, Phoenix Academy (formerly Crim High School) and Sylvan Hills Middle School. Any extra food not consumed at these sites are delivered door-to-door to families in need by Goodr.

“Please come to the sites,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “Please if you see a yellow school bus stopped, come get some food.”

The policy for food delivery during spring break is slightly different. On the first Saturday of spring break (April 4), the Atlanta Community Food Bank will provide each family with four or five bags of groceries to be picked up at one of the five anchor sites. APS and its partners are working on a plan to ensure those without cars will be able to transport the food back to their homes.

“It will be enough food for you to be able to serve a family at least through that week,” said Dr. Carstarphen. “We are going to try very hard to make that possible.”

After spring break, APS plans to change the model for food distribution. In the new model, students would pick up a week’s worth of breakfast and lunch on one day instead of going to a food site every day. APS is working on the details.

Internet Access

APS has been working to meet the technological needs of all students in the district. The administration is working to provide either a laptop or iPad to every student who demonstrates need. Dr. Carstarphen said it’s been harder to determine which high schoolers need devices, so she encouraged families to answer APS robocalls or reach out to their schools for help.

“We’ve been working through what exactly the need is in the district, so we’ve been calling parents trying to get that information so we make sure that everyone has the right support and devices to be able to work,” Dr. Carstarphen said.

APS has also set up WiFi hotspots for students who need them, but Dr. Carstarphen is worried they won’t be able to sustain the amount of connectivity needed. APS has set up a technology hotline,  reachable at 404-802-1000,  but Dr. Carstarphen encourages each family in need to reach out to their schools first.

Because not all students have immediate internet access, the district mandated that students cannot receive a grade of zero for an online assignment and that students should receive many opportunities to complete the assignment.

“APS is working as aggressively as possible in getting the actual support in the home so that the child can access the information,” Dr. Carstarphen said.

Scheduling

All Georgia public schools, per Gov. Brian Kemp’s order, will remain closed through April 24. Dr. Carstarphen said that APS will reevaluate any further closure prior to that date. Spring Break is still scheduled for the same week (April 6 – April 10), and there will be no online learning during the break. Students will return to electronic learning on Monday, April 13.

“Hopefully this won’t last past April, but the scientists and the data that’s coming out is saying that it could indeed go past April,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “I don’t have a crystal ball and there are lots of different people and experts that have different opinions about COVID-19 and what’s going to happen in our country, our state and our city. We’re working through that.”

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