Atlanta school district delays work return for central office staffers

Atlanta Public Schools' employees who work in the district's downtown headquarters were scheduled to return to work this week, a move the district postponed because of COVID-19 case numbers. AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Atlanta Public Schools pulled back on a plan to return more employees to central and district offices this week, citing a bump in local COVID-19 cases.

APS had planned for district office staffers to begin reporting on a staggered schedule this week as it prepares to potentially resume some in-person learning later this month. Most of those employees have been working remotely for months, though the downtown headquarters opened last week for a school board meeting.

Superintendent Lisa Herring recently instructed central office employees who have been teleworking to continue to do so this week. All district offices are closed to the public.

“It is important to me that you know that your health and safety guide my decision-making during this pandemic,” she wrote in an email to staff announcing the decision.

The move comes as parents await the district’s decision — expected Friday — to reopen school buildings later this month or to continue with only virtual learning.

APS plans to give some special education students and students in prekindergarten through fifth grade the chance to resume in-person learning Oct. 26. Students also had the option of remaining virtual.

That reopening plan is contingent largely on public health data. The district’s leading indicator is the local “incidence rate,” or number of new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. The target to reopen school buildings is 100 or fewer cases per 100,000 residents.

In early October, APS announced an expanded reopening plan that included more grade levels and more days of in-person learning than officials initially proposed. At that time, the Fulton County incidence rate hovered around the 100-case mark.

But in recent days, the rate has trended upward. On Thursday, it was 136 cases per 100,000 residents over the last two weeks, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

In response to questions about the return-to-work delay, an APS spokesman provided a copy of an email Herring sent to employees Friday.

Herring wrote that an increase in local cases “has led me to reconsider our decision to increase staff presence” at the central and district offices.

She said she will align the decision to return more employees to offices with the decision to reopen school buildings.

“Friday, October 16th will be the ‘call it’ date for determining whether the public health data allows for face-to-face instruction on the 26th and whether district offices can reopen to an increased staff presence on Monday, October 19th,” Herring wrote. “This will allow us to make the same health-based decision for reopening schools and offices.”

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The APS reopening plan has sparked debate among parents, some of whom think the district is moving too quickly and worry about teachers' health. Others have pushed the district to reopen, saying children are falling behind and families need options.

APS is not the only district eyeing the data closely.

The much-smaller City Schools of Decatur had planned to allow students to return to classrooms this fall. But Tuesday, Decatur Superintendent David Dude announced he revised those plans and would delay the return for most students until January, at the earliest.

Dude cited recent public health information as the reason for the change. The Decatur school system is in DeKalb County, where a small portion of the APS district also lies.

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