APS parent: What’s the concrete metric for classroom return?

In response to questions about how a reopened APS may look, the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent said a hybrid model with a tiered approach – first bringing back early learners, special needs students and ESOL population, and, perhaps, transition grades – is possible.

Reopening of other districts leads Atlanta families to ask what about us?

In the last few days, I’ve been hearing from parents in the Atlanta Public Schools raising the same issue: How and when will APS reopen its school buildings this fall?

(DeKalb and Decatur parents are asking the same questions.)

APS leaders spoke at length about these questions at last week’s school board meeting, although they didn’t provide the firm dates and details that some parents want. However, when school board members asked if APS was adhering to its plan to remain virtual for the first nine weeks, which goes through Oct. 23, Superintendent Lisa Herring said, “For clarity today, we are still wedded to the nine weeks."

Herring said the continuing rise in COVID-19 cases shows that “Fulton County remains at the level of substantial spread...Although we’ve started to see a trend of a slight decrease, we are still at a substantial level. That means we are not ready at this time to make a decision about the return to face-to-face instruction or move to a hybrid model. As the COVID-19 landscape changes, we will continue our efforts toward monitoring data and sharing real-time information with employees, parents and community members.”

“As we see this trend, which is encouraging, it gives us a bit more confidence around the potential of considering the hybrid model between now and the close of the nine-week cycle,” said Herring. “But I would not dare say today that is something we would do immediately because I think we do need to watch that as we are still within the pandemic.”

(Hybrid typically means that students go to school two or three days a week and learn online the others. Many districts are using that model to reduce the number of students in a building to enable social distancing. Here is a good AJC story on the model. )

During questions about how a reopened APS may look, Herring said a hybrid model with a tiered approach – first bringing back early learners, special needs students and ESOL population, and, perhaps, transition grades – is possible.

Board chair Jason Esteves asked how much how much lead time APS will give parents that classrooms are reopening. Herring told him the goal will be to give families a three to four week window of notice.

With the next update to the board on Oct. 5 and the fact that Herring wants to give parents at least three week notice before classrooms will reopen, the week of Oct. 26 looks the most likely -- with the caveat it probably would not be all students at once but a phase-in that begins with the youngest and most vulnerable learners.

Parent Meredith Bateman is among the parents concerned about what she considers a lack of clarity. She shared a letter she sent to the school board.

By Meredith Bateman

I’m writing as a concerned citizen, parent and former teacher. We were told in mid-March 2020 that school would be closed for two weeks to “slow the spread.” Six months later, we are left with a weak virtual school experience in the fourth quarter while APS students remain on lockdown.

As the metric for opening keeps moving, all students, but many of our most vulnerable are falling even further behind. What is APS doing to bridge the gap created by these decisions? What is the concrete metric for returning and are you monitoring other districts and their plans?

Here is the reality:

  • The parents who have the resources have hired tutors. But what about the many children falling behind because they cannot afford tutoring? They were left behind in March and the gap is only getting wider. How are you going to measure learning loss? How soon will this happen?
  • Many students do not have the literal or figurative bandwidth to handle virtual school. My children’s classmates often “check out” after lunch because their family responsibilities keep them offline. What is the plan to help students recover academically?
  • There are THOUSANDS of Atlanta children who now are facing the widest gap in education we may have ever seen. That gap is rapidly becoming an irreparable gulf. All while their parents and all Atlanta citizens pay some of the highest property taxes in the country. What does the metric need to be for Atlanta families and taxpayers to get a return on their investment?
  • Many students are not receiving the two meals they depend on while attending school in person. Who is monitoring whether these students get their basic needs met?
  • We have been warned for decades about the dangers of screen time. I have seen firsthand the depression of my own two children because of increased screen time. Some children are online seven hours a day. Did anyone consider these factors when the decision was made?
  • I have heard countless stories about children who had never exhibited signs of depression, who are now visibly depressed because of this isolation. How does a teacher access a child’s progress or emotional wellness through a computer screen? Who is monitoring the abused and neglected children?

This virus is novel and requires a novel response. We are Americans. This is not the first pandemic we have faced and it won’t be the last. This is our generation’s D-Day. Our grandparents faced their fears for us so we could live in freedom. It is time for us to do the same for our children and grandchildren. Thousands of parents deserve to know the plan, we’ve waited six months. Our children are suffering. It’s time for the board to move in the best interest of our students and get off the fence. Parents are not going to be silenced any longer.

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