Decatur superintendent forming a ‘multi-disciplinary team’ to evaluate COVID

Decatur Superintendent David Dude shown here with former Decatur Mayor and longtime senior citizen activist Elizabeth Wilson. Courtesy City Schools of Decatur

Decatur Superintendent David Dude shown here with former Decatur Mayor and longtime senior citizen activist Elizabeth Wilson. Courtesy City Schools of Decatur

Earlier this month City Schools of Decatur announced it was postponing the classroom return of K-12 students and teachers to Jan. 5 at the absolute earliest. But one wonders, given the recent spike in COVID-19 cases nationwide and the dire forecasts for winter, if there will be any return at all in 2020-21.

“I’m hopeful that we can get back this school year,” said Superintendent David Dude. “Although, last March 13 I thought we’d be back after spring break. Bottom line, you can’t go off my guesses. Going back, or a big part of going back, depends on what [data] we see long term.”

Dude announced on Oct. 13 that he was forming a “multi-disciplinary team” to analyze and discuss data and long-term trends. Dude had formed a similar collective during the summer, but its members were anonymous, a decision for which Dude subsequently received some criticism for, in part, running what was perceived as a secret committee.

With the new team Dude said it’s mandatory that each member make their name public. During a recent interview, that’s been edited for space and clarity, Dude discussed the new multi-disciplinary team and his thoughts about returning to the classroom.

AJC: Can you describe the composition of the multi-disciplinary team?

Dude: I don’t know yet how many people we’ll get. We’re looking at doctors, pediatricians, emergency room doctors, epidemiologists, infectious disease experts, data scientists and experts in measurement and statistics. So it’s pretty broad what we’re looking for. We want to have as many opinions as possible from various expert areas.

Is data the driving force in determining when the students go back?

The data does play a very important part in our decision making because it helps us understand what risks we’re taking. Part of what will come out of this work [with the multi-disciplinary team] is figuring out if there is a way to get specific, predictable values that we can look for before deciding to go back.

But as I’ve said before there are risks on all sides of this question. There are risks to not getting the kids back. And we’re not going to make everyone happy. This isn’t one of those situations where you can try to find some middle ground that keeps everybody happy. There are going to be people upset one way or another. So we’re trying to balance what risks we are taking with what the needs are of our community, our staff, our students. That’s what we have to figure out.

Judging from the public comment during the Oct. 13 school board meeting, it sounds like a lot of people won’t send their kids back until the virus is thoroughly under control. But who knows when that will be? The next political battleground could be over who exactly are among the first to get the vaccine, assuming there is a vaccine.

I think it’s more complicated than just who gets the vaccine. It’s going to be about which vaccine people get, when they get it, how do they get it and how long is it effective. There are a lot of variables. Most people I talk to believe that a vaccine will not be generally available until next summer.

So you think we could still be looking at a long road ahead?

We certainly could have a ways to go, that’s true. I think one of the biggest things to how quickly kids get back into classrooms is largely dependent on how seriously our community takes this. The more we have people out eating in person, in restaurants, going to bars and movie theaters and just doing things that aren’t maybe the safest that they can be doing, the longer it’s gonna take for the virus transmission rates to come down.