Atlanta Public Schools plans to reopen with new COVID testing strategy

Atlanta Public Schools will resume in-person learning on Monday with a greater focus on COVID-19 testing for students. (Alyssa Pointer/AJC FILE PHOTO)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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Atlanta Public Schools will resume in-person learning on Monday with a greater focus on COVID-19 testing for students. (Alyssa Pointer/AJC FILE PHOTO)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Atlanta Public Schools plans to resume face-to-face instruction Monday with a greater emphasis on COVID-19 testing for students.

Among the most significant changes is the launch of a “test-to-stay” policy. That allows students and employees to remain in school if they are exposed to COVID-19 but test negative and have no symptoms.

Individuals who test positive or have symptoms will be sent home. Those who do not agree to testing must quarantine at home for 10 days.

The change, which goes into effect Jan. 18, requires parental consent for students to be tested.

“The test-to-stay protocol will provide additional and more immediate data for decision-making purposes, and will give families an alternative to help keep their students in school,” the district said.

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APS officials have been considering a change to quarantine rules for some time.

At an early December board meeting, Chairman Jason Esteves urged administrators to update the policy and use tests to keep students in school. He said it could become an educational equity issue if children are forced to learn virtually.

“We need to adjust to ensure that we are focused on keeping kids in classrooms, where we know it’s the most effective way to learn,” he said.

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District officials also are urging more students to sign up for voluntary COVID-19 surveillance testing, which will now be available at schools twice a week instead of just weekly. About 20% of students have signed consent forms to participate in that program.

APS made it mandatory in September for employees to be tested twice a week.

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Going forward, the district said individual schools may switch to virtual learning based on COVID-19 case counts in the school and community.

“The spike in positive cases may result in fluctuations as APS continues to monitor incoming data and pivot to virtual learning on a case-by-case basis, per class and per school, as necessary,” said Superintendent Lisa Herring in a written statement. “However, if we all do our part, in-person learning can be maintained wherever possible, much as we have done throughout this pandemic.”