Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen gave details on the state’s decision to close school for all in-person instruction for the rest of the school year and reflected on how the district has managed the COVID-19 pandemic at a virtual media roundtable on Thursday, April 2.
Answering questions submitted via the online Zoom platform, Dr. Carstarphen confirmed the continuation of a “tele-school” policy for the rest of the year.
“Schools are open,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “We are past the trial mode, and we are in full instruction, and while we cannot do the in-person instruction we do expect that our teachers are teaching; our leaders are leading, and our students are learning and participating.”
Because of the sudden closure of schools originally on March 16, the district had a difficult time providing the required technology to students and families so that they can participate in the online learning system.
“We were not a district that was prepared for one-to-one technology,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “That was not our model, and we never proposed to do that. The challenge is around devices, actually having enough devices is a weak spot.”
Carstarphen noted that families, as a whole ,are also going through challenging times with online learning.
“It’s hard enough teaching a kid math while you are in school but imagine trying to teach your child in math while managing technology,” Dr. Carstarphen said.
Given the extended school closure, APS will continue to work with families and students, along with telecommunication providers to ensure adequate connectivity and engagement for all students.
“We keep raising with the governor and our city leadership and other influencers that we believe that the telecommunications providers really need to weave a quilt of support, at least in Atlanta, preferably the Metro-area, the whole state of Georgia where you are getting the various providers to give a broad enough net that any child can have access,” Dr. Carstarphen said.
Even as Atlanta Public Schools has partnered with various telecommunications providers to offer devices and hotspots, the district continues to raise concerns about internet access.
Dr. Carstaphen said some families were turned down for free WiFi programs because they had outstanding balances with providers.
“We saw that early on, and we complained to the telecommunications providers and raised that as an issue that they would have to fix,” the superintendent said.
With recent shelter-in-place orders and guidelines about group gatherings, Dr. Carstarphen does not yet have a plan for 2020 graduation and the district has officially canceled all in-person proms.
Dr. Carstarphen said APS will continue to plan ahead for the rest of the school year but will also continue to look at potential schedule changes to comply with executive orders from Gov. Brian Kemp.
“Will we be told tomorrow that you must come back after the 4th of July and start school for the rest of the year?” Dr. Carstarphen asked rhetorically. “If that is something that could happen, that is probably something that districts should know sooner, rather than later.”
The Georgia Department of Education has canceled all standardized Milestones End of Course testing for the remainder of the school year. In addressing grading policy, Dr. Carstarphen silenced notions about a potential move to a pass-fail system and reaffirmed that grades will continue as usual, just at a lesser frequency.
The superintendent ended the virtual roundtable by affirming the district’s support for teachers, administrators and employees who continue to work during the schools closure. The district has committed to fulfilling all needs for employees and has begun to offer new support for staff who are still working in person, Dr. Carstarphen said.
“After Spring Break, we know that we need some of our frontline workers to still be working in person,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “To honor their contribution, we will start instituting what we call “HERO pay” to essential employees. Starting Monday, April 13, at the rate of time and a half for all hours worked, those people who are called into work on a site will receive HERO pay.”