Hundreds of DeKalb school employees want COVID-19 work accommodations

DeKalb County School District headquarters in Stone Mountain. (AJC FILE PHOTO)
DeKalb County School District headquarters in Stone Mountain. (AJC FILE PHOTO)

DeKalb County School officials said this week they are reviewing 533 pending requests from employees, including teachers, who have sought work accommodations for work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The remaining requests were discussed during a board of education meeting this week. Michelle Jones, the DeKalb County School District interim chief of Human Resources, said they’re asking principals to give staff temporary accommodations as they develop a plan for the requests.

Jones said they only had one person reviewing requests, but their team has recently expanded.

School staff returned to buildings last week, but classes in the district have been virtual since last March. Parent reactions are mixed about the district’s actions. Many parents want in-person learning for students. Others want to delay the reopening until employees are vaccinated and more is done to ensure the safety of students and staff.

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DeKalb Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the district received 40 resignations from employees over the last week, including 17 certified staff and 11 retirements. The district employs more than 16,000 employees, including more than 7,000 teachers.

School board member Joyce Morley said teachers have told her the district is not letting teachers work remotely. A district spokeswoman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the district does not have a telework option.

Work requests such as leave or other accommodations could be granted to employees under the Family Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act, the spokeswoman said.

Employees were previously told on Dec. 31, 2020, that they could submit a separate “hardship request application.” Anyone who submitted that request by Jan. 8 was automatically allowed to work remotely for 30 days. The hardship period ended on Feb. 2.

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At a meeting Monday, school board member Marshall Orson stressed it was important for the district to begin a safe reopening, adding that it cannot promise that the process will be “risk-free.”

School board chair Vickie Turner questioned if it was right for the district to make teachers “jump through hoops and fill out 50 papers” to have accommodations, while parents have the option to keep their children in virtual classes.

“Teachers are not given an option as if their lives are not more valuable or just as valuable,” she said.

Officials have not said when in-person learning will begin again.

The district’s data said 604 employees and 158 students tested positive for COVID-19 from July 1 to Feb. 3. A campus supervisor at Henderson Middle School recently died due to complications from the coronavirus, the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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