It’s official: Decatur grades Pre-K-5 returning to the classroom Jan. 19, with 6-12 soon following

It's now official, Decatur elementary students will, if they so choose, return to the classroom on January 19. All Decatur schools, like the nearly 100-year-old Winnona Park Elementary, have been closed since March 13. Bill Banks file photo for the AJC
It's now official, Decatur elementary students will, if they so choose, return to the classroom on January 19. All Decatur schools, like the nearly 100-year-old Winnona Park Elementary, have been closed since March 13. Bill Banks file photo for the AJC

City Schools of Decatur Superintendent David Dude made it official Wednesday afternoon, telling the AJC that the district’s Pre-K through fifth grade students will return to the classroom on Jan. 19. He added that the remaining 6-12 students could return as early as two weeks later on Feb. 2.

Of Georgia’s 181 school districts CSD is one the last remaining (along with DeKalb, Fulton County and Clayton County) still practicing all-virtual learning. The district’s students haven’t been inside their schools since March 13.

Initially Dude and his staff had students returning in staggered rotations beginning Nov. 3, but pulled the plug when COVID-19 cases began escalating.

It is worse now. According to CDC guidelines anywhere from 50 to 200 new cases per 100,000 within the last 14 days is considered a “higher risk of transmission in schools,” with over 200 the “highest risk of transmission.”

On Wednesday, DeKalb County stood at 378, Gwinnett County 485, Fulton 388 and Cobb 378. But Dude has said in the last week that new research is showing community transmission levels are often much higher than school transmissions if rigorous mitigation standards are applied within school facilities.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re not setting metrics at this point,” Dude said Wednesday. “You heard the board say [Tuesday night], or a lot of them say, the metrics they’re most interested in is the metrics within the school. We won’t have those answers until kids get into the classroom. But we feel strongly that our mitigations are so thorough we are comfortable with Jan. 19 regardless of what the various [metro-wide] metrics are.

“We anticipate incorporating some of the metrics into the next phase [when 6-12 return],” he added, “because the groupings of those students, particularly at the high school level, will be larger and more complex [than with the elementary grades].”

Pre K-5 will return for four hours each morning, probably for five days a week, for those who want to return in person. Students also have the choice to remain online.

It’s anticipated the Pre K-5 in-person attendance will range from 10 to no more than 15 students per classroom.

On Wednesday (Dec. 9) the district posted a survey at https://campus.csdecatur.org/campus/portal/parents/decatur.jsp asking parents to choose one of four preferences:

1)I’d like my child to return to the classroom in in person? 2) I want to remain virtual; 3) I’d like to return in person but can remain virtual if needed; 4) I’d like to remain virtual but can return in person.

Completed surveys are due by Sunday (Dec. 13) and the Pre-K-5 learning-choice selection is valid through April 2. Dude believes that, based on a similar August survey, about the half the Pre K-12 students will return to the classroom.

Regarding the Pre K-5 groupings, or what Dude calls “cohorts,” if the demand for returning is so high that classes can’t be kept at 15 or under, than in-person learning will get offered for only two days a week. In that case half the students wishing to return in person will come to school on Monday and Tuesday, the other half Thursday and Friday, with the Wellness Wednesday remaining in place for now.

Students aren’t guaranteed they’ll remain in their current classes or stay with their current teachers. With a return to the classroom CSD is eliminating “concurrent teaching,” meaning that teachers supervising in-person students will not teach online, and virtual instructors won’t teach in person.

It’s not clear what the grades 6-12 cohorts will look like since those students are changing classrooms all day. Dude said he’d have a better idea of that format after Christmas break. But for now, given that an outbreak doesn’t close a school, or multiple schools, he’s hoping to stay with this split virtual/in-person format through the end of the year.

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