More Atlanta students opting for in-person learning than in fall

Atlanta Public Schools plans to reopen school buildings in late January. AJC FILE PHOTO

Atlanta Public Schools plans to reopen school buildings in late January. AJC FILE PHOTO

More Atlanta students have opted to return to school buildings in the upcoming weeks than wanted to in the fall, despite a surge in cases of the coronavirus.

Atlanta Public Schools plans to resume in-person instruction for its youngest students and some special education students starting Jan. 25 and gradually phase in older grades during the first week of February. Students also can choose to remain in online classes.

Roughly one third of students, or about 13,000, want to go back when their classrooms reopen, according to data obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open-records request.

That’s a couple thousand more than the number that planned to go back in the fall, when the district had initially proposed reopening but decided not to.

In mid-October, when APS backed off plans to reopen school buildings, the Fulton County incidence rate, which measures the number of new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period, was about 140.

During the first week of January, the Fulton County rate has topped more than 600 cases per 100,000 residents.

APS officials have cited a number of factors in the decision to reopen later this month. Those include growing vaccine availability, mitigation efforts to reduce the spread of the virus and the district’s experience with launching in-person intervention programs in November. Officials said they also considered how the district’s most vulnerable students would be impacted if learning remains online only.

Only a handful of schools, all at the elementary level, have greater than 60% of the students planning to return in-person. Those include Morningside and E. Rivers with 61%, Sarah Smith with 68%, Jackson with 78%, and Morris Brandon with 80%.

In schools with more than 60% of students returning, principals will be tasked with making adjustments, which could include schedule changes, to maintain safety protocols.

The AJC has requested plans detailing how those schools will respond.

In the fall and again in December, APS asked families to fill out forms choosing online or in-person learning.

In December, declaration forms were received for nearly two thirds of students attending the district’s traditional schools. If a form was not received, a student will remain in virtual classes. The district’s charter schools are making their own reopening plans.