Atlanta Public Schools
Atlanta Public Schools will delay the current plan for a return to in-person learning for students in grades 3 through 12 across the district.
APS said on Jan. 22 that the adjusted reopening plan will push the return of students in grades 3-5 until Feb. 8 and students in grades 6-12 to remain virtual until at least Feb. 16, as opposed to the original plan of returning in the first week of February. This announcement does not change the reopening plan for PreK-2 and Special Education students who are still scheduled to return to in-person learning on Jan. 25.
Some Grady teachers, such as literature teacher Susan Barber believe that, while not a perfect solution, the delay is a step in the right direction.
“I don’t feel like it completely relieves all of the concerns that teachers have,” Barber said. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
However, some parents believe it is a step in the wrong direction. Howard Middle School and Grady parent Josh D’Agostino planned to have his three children return to in-person learning and was frustrated by the district’s decision.
“I’m disappointed,” D’Agostino said. “I think that APS talks about wanting to follow the science and data, and the science and data says school is really not a dangerous situation or significant transmission point for Covid. There are schools open all over the country that are really doing this right, and I’m having trouble understanding why APS can’t make a decision.”
Many teachers don’t understand why the district is planning on returning when the rate of cases is so high. They also think they are lacking communication about how decisions such as these are being made and what data is being used to make them.
“I personally do not know any of the reasons for the decisions,” Barber said. “I have no idea if they’re using scientific data, health data, if they’re looking at supplies. I have no idea what’s guiding their decisions.”
According to the district, “This slower pace will allow more time to intensify and add to our current mitigation strategies and plan in anticipation of COVID-19 surveillance testing to be provided in our schools.”
However, some teachers do not think that an additional two weeks is enough time to make returning safe.
“The discrepancies between what I hear…and what I’ve experienced as a teacher through this process, just don’t give me the confidence that two weeks, in the context of this virus, are going to make a significant impact,” government teacher Christopher Rhodenbaugh said. “I’m happy that it’s two weeks, instead of next week, but I do not in any way feel that we will be safe to return in two weeks.”
D’Agostino says that APS has had ample time for any necessary preparation.
“APS has had months and months to come up with a plan, and they just seem unable to figure it out for some reason,” D’Agostino said. “For them to say well we need more time just seems very curious to me. I don’t understand how that can be.”
After weeks of ranking in the bottom five states in vaccine distribution, Georgia now ranks 25th, according to the CDCs COVID vaccine tracker, having administered 48.85 percent of all doses received. Despite an improvement in vaccine distribution, Georgia remains gripped by the virus’s latest surge.
Over the past seven days, Georgia has reported 72 new cases per 100,000 people, adding 53,475 new cases the last week and bringing Georgia’s total to 844,799 confirmed cases since the outbreak began, according to the CDC. The current rate of transmission in the state is currently the sixth-worst in the country, with only New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Arizona and California experiencing higher surges per 100,000 residents.
Even though the date for some students to return has been pushed back, Grady teachers who returned to the building this week will continue to work in the building, even while all students are still learning virtually. Some teachers said this is unnecessary and a threat to their well being.
“[Having teachers in the building] makes absolutely no sense,” said AP Seminar teacher Mario Herrera. “It increases the risk because you are bringing people together from different parts of the Atlanta community. For what purpose, I don’t understand.”
Barber says she would like the district to do a better job listening to the teachers that are actually in the classrooms because there is an apparent gap between how mitigation efforts look on paper and how they play out in reality. Rhodenbaugh says that the coronavirus pandemic has introduced a “grey territory” where many teachers don’t agree with the district.
“It does not feel good to be in opposition with the district,” Rhodenbaugh said. “I want to work together, and every one of my colleagues wants to work together, and it is alienating us to rush us back into the building, not give [a] choice and to be to be continuing to tell us it’s about health and safety when it’s clearly not safe.”
While many school officials and parents remain fiercely divided on the issue of in-person learning, only 282 Grady students elected to return when the district reopened, with some saying that the reopening plan was too focused on politics and not students.
“I don’t really agree with the urgency around opening schools right now, I think a lot of it has to do with the pushback that our district is getting from parents and people because they want their kids to be in-person,” senior Zola Sullivan said. “Ultimately, I do not think that is going to be helpful for so many of our students who don’t have access to a lot of necessary resources.”
Decisions such as this one are very controversial, but Herrera stresses that the Grady administration has been incredible in navigating their position in what Rhodenbaugh explains as the intersection of families, teachers and the district.
“I want to make this point very very clear,” Herrera said. “Grady High School administration has been ridiculously phenomenal.”