DeKalb’s school board to discuss COVID-19 impact on school reopening Monday

The DeKalb County School District is meeting virtually Monday to receive an update on the spread of coronavirus in the county, and its impact on potentially reopening school buildings for in-person classes.

DeKalb has held online-only classes since it started the school year in August, angering many parents who feel in-person learning is essential for their children’s education and mental health.

District officials have said they will offer in-person classes when coronavirus rates in the county drop below 100 infections per 100,000 people for 14 straight days. The Georgia Department of Health on Dec. 4 reported 323 cases per 100,000 people within that period.

DeKalb and three other metro Atlanta school districts not offering in-person classes are outliers in the state. The Georgia Department of Education reported in November that less than 7% of Georgia’s school districts have no face-to-face learning.

In addition to DeKalb, Atlanta Public Schools, Clayton County Schools and City Schools of Decatur are online-only in the metro area, although APS students will have an in-person learning option starting Jan. 25.

Districts in Gwinnett, Cobb, and Fulton counties reopened buildings for their students months ago.

“There’s been some changes in return-to-school plans, but from day one we have always been driven by the science and by the data,” DeKalb superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in November.

Several parents in contact with the AJC lamented the educational and mental toll the pandemic and virtual learning has had on their children. The parents said they want the option of in-person learning, and are worried district officials won’t provide that choice.

Dunwoody resident Kayce Pearce said her family already has transferred one of their children into private school, and they’re considering it for their rising kindergartener. Kelley Whitten said she quit her job to support her son’s virtual kindergarten learning.

Nikki Houston said Friday her family moved in June to enroll their daughter into Montgomery Elementary School. She said her “shy” 10-year-old is struggling to make friends in online classes.

Online-only learning is stressing out students and teachers, said Houston, who referenced the 11-year-old California boy who fatally shot himself Dec. 2 during a zoom class.

“My daughter told my husband she doesn’t feel connected to the school in any way, so she doesn’t feel like she needs to do her schoolwork,” Houston said, breaking into tears. “It’s been a horrible experience and now I’m looking at private schools which I can’t afford.”

DeKalb residents can watch the meeting on Channel 24 or DeKalb Schools TV online. The meeting will include a closed-door executive session.

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