Clayton County in-school vaccinations, testing battles COVID-19 spread

09/21/2021 — Forest Park, Georgia — G.P. Babb 8th grader Christina Roblero receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination from Clayton County Public Schools Nurse Supervisor Lisa Gattis during a Clayton County Public Schools COVID-19 vaccination and testing drive at G.P. Babb Middle School in Forest Park Tuesday, September 21, 2021.  (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

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09/21/2021 — Forest Park, Georgia — G.P. Babb 8th grader Christina Roblero receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination from Clayton County Public Schools Nurse Supervisor Lisa Gattis during a Clayton County Public Schools COVID-19 vaccination and testing drive at G.P. Babb Middle School in Forest Park Tuesday, September 21, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

After closing at least 20 schools temporarily because of COVID-19 outbreaks, Clayton County is weighing whether to create a permanent program for remote learning and implementing a vaccine mandate.

During a YouTube Live Tuesday, Clayton Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley said the south metro district’s current coronavirus policy does not require students be vaccinated. But Beasley, who in the past has opposed a vaccination mandate, left the door open to one if the county board of education takes a different position.

“We’ll look at the various laws and opportunities that have to support that in our state,” he said of the board. “And if that decision is made, it will be communicated at the highest level.”

Clayton Schools, like most districts in metro Atlanta, saw a surge of COVID-19 infections in classrooms throughout August. The infections were so widespread that school systems from Cobb to Henry counties temporarily switched entire grade levels to remote learning or closed buildings to try to bring the virus under control.

Earlier this month, Decatur Schools said it planned to require staff to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, but would not require the same mandate for students.

“We all have to take individual responsibility and appropriate actions to insure that we are safe and that others are safe,” Beasley said during the YouTube Live. He said all but two schools that had temporarily closed — Sequoyah Middle and Forest Park High — were back in class for face-to-face instruction.

Beasley made the remarks just hours after dozens of students and Clayton Schools employees filed into Babb Middle School on Tuesday to get inoculated and tested for the virus. The district will host testing and inoculation clinics on a number of school campuses in the coming weeks to get more shots in arms, which has some of the lowest vaccination numbers in metro Atlanta.

Clayton Schools is offering fulltime staff $500 and part-timers $250 if they get inoculated by the end of the month. Beasley said 80 percent of staff who responded to a recent survey said they had been vaccinated, but only about a quarter of the district’s employees filled out the questionnaire.

The district is also looking at hiring a principal and teachers for a permanent school for remote learners, according to Beasley.

“Our goal is to provide an option for families who would like to do remote learning for an extended period of time,” he said, adding that the district is still in the planning stages. “More details are forthcoming.

Despite the challenges, Beasley said he still believes in-class instruction is preferable to returning to the all-virtual education most Clayton students received for the entire 2020-2021 academic year. He said students suffered academically last year and it’s easier to manage individual outbreaks than go through more learning loss.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure that students are safe and that they are learning,” he said.