Atlanta superintendent: Schools ready to open Monday

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Public Schools is prepared to resume in-person learning next week after a four-day pivot to online classes, according to Superintendent Lisa Herring.

”This Monday, we expect and anticipate that everyone will return to face to face,” she said in a Friday interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are ready to open. And as we prepare to open, we are just intentional about safety and well-being, both educational well-being and mental health.”

APS, Georgia’s seventh-largest school system, was among half a dozen metro Atlanta districts to start the second semester online after a surge in COVID-19 cases over the holiday break.

The Atlanta district, which requires masks in its schools, initially said school would resume in-person but quickly reconsidered and moved online. That was a necessary step, Herring said. She said the virtual start provided critical time to gather data.

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The district administered more than 7,000 COVID-19 tests on Monday as part of a mandatory testing program for employees. Just over 5% of full-time staff who took the test received a positive result, or 296 employees, according to numbers provided by APS. The district said that another 272 staff members reported a positive test result since Dec. 22.

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

Herring said that positivity rate among staff gave the district “some reassurance” as they look to reopen buildings next week.

“We’re encouraged to be quite honest but that encouragement is still tied to effective mitigation strategies,” she said.

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Herring said there’s an ongoing potential for some students to return to virtual learning based on COVID-19 case numbers.

“At any given day, it could be a cohort of students, it could be a class, it could be a school,” she said.

She stressed the importance of parents signing consent forms to allow their child to participate in twice-weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing.

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The district also is rolling out a new “test-to-stay” quarantine policy that allows employees and students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to remain in school so long as they are asymptomatic and test negative.

“I think that’s a critical factor to us being able to navigate being open,” Herring said.

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