DeKalb schools likely won’t return to in-person learning in early 2021

The DeKalb County School District announced Monday that it does not appear that students will be back in classrooms soon. This announcement could be disheartening for the dozens of parents and students who rallied at Piedmont Park over the weekend . to urge DeKalb to reopen school buildings and resume in-person classes. DeKalb board vice chair Vickie Turner said the district needs to reinforce its support for the children struggling with online learning. DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris agreed and stressed the district is preparing for a safe re-opening. DeKalb officials say they only will offer in-person classes when coronavirus case rates in the county drop below 100 infections per 100,000 people for 14 straight days

The DeKalb County School District announced Monday afternoon that, with COVID-19 cases on the rise, it does not appear that students will be back in classrooms soon.

This announcement could be disheartening for the dozens of parents and students who rallied at Piedmont Park over the weekend to urge DeKalb to reopen school buildings and resume in-person classes.

But DeKalb school board member Allyson Gevertz said it wouldn’t be wise to reopen schools at this time because there is still a “community spread” of the virus.

Michelle Jones, interim chief human resource officer and a member of the COVID-19 Task Force created by DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris, said DeKalb has a testing positivity rate of 8.2%. The World Health Organization advises governments to wait until their jurisdictions see positivity rates below 5% for 14 consecutive days before easing restrictions on gatherings.

DeKalb officials say they only will offer in-person classes when coronavirus case rates in the county drop below 100 infections per 100,000 people for 14 straight days. The Georgia Department of Health on Dec. 6 reported 332 cases per 100,000 people within two consecutive weeks.

DeKalb has held online-only classes since it started the school year in August, upsetting many parents who feel in-person learning is essential for their children.

Dunwoody High School parent Robyn Files testified that some parents are relocating to private schools or neighboring counties for face-to-face classes. Austin Elementary School parent Jaime Schwartz called the district’s metrics for reopening “unattainable,” and added that DeKalb needs to give parents the choice of in-person learning.

“I can tell you firsthand that DeKalb’s youngest students are struggling. My daughter has a fantastic teacher, but she’s unable to teach at different levels due to the constraints of virtual learning,” Schwartz said.

DeKalb board vice chair Vickie Turner said she understands face-to-face learning is important. But until schools reopen, Turner said the district needs to reinforce its support for the children struggling with online learning.

Watson-Harris agreed. She stressed the district is preparing for a safe re-opening.

DeKalb board member Joyce Morley urged people to protect themselves because the spread of the virus “is unpredictable.”

“We don’t need to give any dates about returning until we can get a handle on it,” Morley said. “We’re not trying to pretend that we know what’s going on.”

Dunwoody High School parent Kathy Wilkie told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that her son is currently in therapy to cope with the affects of the pandemic. She called the district’s metrics for reopening “unrealistic” and “frustrating.”

DeKalb County’s next school semester begins Jan. 19.

Whenever buildings reopen, the district will give families the option of choosing from online classes only or a hybrid learning model that combines in-person instruction with remote learning.

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