Seniors end classes May 1, virtual learning shifts to four-day week


Anna Rachwalski

MADE WITH LOVE: During the virtual town hall, Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen held up a mask her mother sewed and encouraged others to sew masks.

Starting April 20, Atlanta Public Schools will move to a four-day week for virtual learning, with the fifth day of the week open for teachers to hold office hours, perform remedial learning and receive professional training for distance learning. 

Students have high hopes for the new four-day schedule.

“I like the new schedule a lot. Before spring break when we were rotating between A weeks and B weeks, it was very confusing,” sophomore William Charlop said. “It’s great that the school will be giving students more time to be doing what they enjoy with the new three-day weekends.”

In her third virtual town hall since the closure of school buildings on March 13, Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen also announced that the last day of school for seniors will be May 1, and all other students will end school as scheduled on May 22. All students who were passing their classes on March 13 will be promoted. If a student was not passing on March 13, they will be given the rest of the school year to improve their status. 

It is APS custom for seniors to end school two weeks before the rest of students to guarantee that all transcripts and records are reviewed thoroughly. However, due to COVID-19 and the need for everything to be done virtually, the earlier date gives APS more time to make sure the district has more time to “dot every i and cross every t” to ensure there are no mistakes.  Seniors who have not fulfilled all requirements by that date have additional time. 

“May 1st has no impact on a seniors’ ability to continue to work,” said Dr. Dan Sims, associate superintendent. “If anything, the earlier date is going to end up benefiting the seniors. “ 

According to Dr. Sims, next week, APS will meet with all high schools in the district in order to determine which seniors will need additional time, so they can be provided with the needed support. 

In other relevant news for seniors, Dr. Carstarphen also listed several graduation possibilities. 

One option would be a ceremony at a drive-in movie theater, where each student would be allotted one car for family and friends, and would not be allowed to leave their car. Dr. Carstarphen also suggested a ceremony held at Lakewood Stadium later in the year, where chairs are spread six feet apart, or a completely virtual ceremony. 

“My job as a superintendent is to try to get you as many good options as possible,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “We want you to be happy as seniors; we want your families to be happy; and we want to respect the hard work you’ve done over the last 13 years.”

Dr. Sims has worked with a focus group of seniors, representative of all schools, including class leaders and salutatorians to see which graduation option seniors are more receptive to.

“Their sentiment, overall, has been they prefer to do something that brings everybody together, understanding our constraints with COVID-19 guidelines and living in this world of uncertainty,” Dr. Sims said. 

The majority of students did not prefer an exclusively virtual option but opted for a possible virtual option in the short term and the opportunity for an in-person graduation once things become safer. 

In addition to the focus group, a survey was sent out on April 17 asking students for their input. With over 900 responses in the first day, the results were consistent with the opinions of the focus group. 

However, trying to please everyone with the new norms hasn’t been easy, especially when taking away such major events.

“I don’t like the drive-in idea,” senior Emily Brown said. “I think that graduation is a very formal ceremony, and it should remain that way.”

The APS decision-making team has been keeping the Class of 2020 in their hearts. Dr. Sims said the staff struggles to make these decisions because they have all been there as students themselves. 

“We totally understand because we’ve all graduated from high school, college, gotten our doctorate and nothing is like that experience of the noise and the circumstance and walking across that stage,” Dr. Sims said. “Our hearts really bleed because we understand how great that is, but we also understand that our hands are literally tied, along with the rest of the entire world right now. So, trying to navigate that and keep a group of seniors we have literally fallen in love with happy, that’s the space we find ourselves in.”

Seniors will still receive their caps and gown, which are made by Coca-Cola out of recycled materials, as early as next week and will be allowed to keep them. 

Dr. Carstarphen urged seniors and family of seniors to voice their opinions on the matter. Seniors can express their stance on the issue through participating in the survey and virtual town halls, talking to their teachers and principals, or emailing the superintendent’s office. 

Other topics and concerns Dr. Carstarphen addressed included food and technology distribution. 

Food distribution will continue to occur. Students who have previously received food at the Thomasville Heights Elementary School and Booker T. Washington High School sites, which have been closed due to exposure to COVID-19, will continue to receive food at previously stated bus stops. A full list of food distribution locations can be found on the Atlanta Public Schools website. 

“We have had such an overwhelming response of support in the way of funding and even drivers to get food to certain neighborhoods,” Dr. Sims said. 

APS is working to ensure that all students and staff have access to the devices and the connectivity they need to complete online learning. One issue that they have run into when it comes to distributing technology is when contact information is not updated in the system. 

In addition, Dr. Carstarphen and Dr. Sims acknowledge that access to the internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity. They hope to continue working with community partners as well as city and state leadership to secure connectivity to students and staff.

“There needs to be a strategy that allows us to move into the twenty-first century like we would anything else as it relates to basic utility services,” Dr. Carstarphen said.

As the district works to provide the support that students and families need, input and communication from the community is needed, the superintendent said. 

“I really am going to need you to work it out with your school communities and then weigh in with me,” Dr. Carstarphen said. “If you’ve got a dog in the fight, that’s the voice we need to hear. So bark loud, so that we see you, and we hear you. “