Parents want school districts to offer face-to-face option for students

Parents across metro Atlanta want school districts to offer in-person classroom instruction for their children. Credit: AJC file photo.

On the heels of the state’s largest school districts deciding to offer only virtual learning again this fall, parents are calling for schools to reopen classrooms.

Despite the spike in COVID-19 cases reported around metro Atlanta, parents want Georgia’s second largest school district to allow their children to return to the classroom, if they choose.

Some Cobb County parents are calling on Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and the Cobb school board to offer a face-to-face option for parents when the 2020-21 school year begins Aug. 17. The school district, which has about 113,000 students, announced last week that traditional classroom teaching would not be an option this fall. As of Friday, a petition calling for the reinstatement of classes has received more than 6,000 signatures.

Michael Shelley, the Cobb parent who created the Change.org petition, said many of his peers said their children are unable to learn virtually. Shelley has three children — a kindergartner, second-grader and fifth-grader — and said there’s no way his youngest child can “sit in front of a screen for eight hours a day.”

Shelley said the virtual option should also be offered for parents who want to choose that for their children.

“It should be our choice to send those children to class,” he said. “I don’t want to take their virtual option away, but our children need to be in the classroom.”

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The state’s four largest school districts — Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton — all originally offered parents the choice of face-to-face or virtual learning when school returns. However, due to the continued rise in COVID-19 cases, all decided last week to start the year with only remote teaching.

Marietta City Schools and Atlanta Public Schools also decided to offer only virtual classes.

Fulton County schools spokesperson Brian Noyes said the district has received numerous phone calls, emails and social media message from people who want the traditional classroom option. Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney on Thursday unveiled a new plan to the Fulton school board that would phase in face-to-face learning after Labor Day. The school board unanimously voted to allow Looney to implement that plan.

Marietta City Schools spokeswoman Jen Brock said they also have parents who want an in-person option. To help families who may struggle with virtual learning, the system is looking for daycare partners and other options for families who need help during the day. The system also hopes to offer an in-person tutoring program that would comply with social distance guidelines. It could be offered in places such as school buildings, churches, community centers or subdivision clubhouses.

“We want our students and staff to be together in-person in our schools as much as our families do, and we continue to evaluate what is safe for everyone, recognizing that information, guidance, and data change daily,” Brock said.

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In response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s request for comment, Cobb County School District spokeswoman Nan Kiel said that Superintendent Ragsdale is committed to making decisions “based on public health guidance, student and staff safety, and student needs.”

“The decision to begin the year remotely is the best way for students to learn from anywhere, safely, and we look forward to getting back into face-to-face classrooms as soon as public health guidance for Cobb County allows,” she said in a statement. Ragsdale was not made available for comment.

Cobb County School Board member Charisse Davis said Ragsdale made the best decision he could with guidance from public health officials. However, Davis said she thinks the district should share the information it relied on when deciding to eliminate in-person classes. As a parent, Davis said she wants her children to return to school, but it’s still unclear whether that can be done safely.

“We all want to resume some part of our normal lives and going back to school for our kids is just one example for that,” she said.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics and three education groups have come out in favor of children returning to the classroom when it’s safe for them and educators. The Academy stresses that teachers, parents, local school leaders and public health experts should “be at the center” of any decisions about how and when schools reopen.

“Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools,” the Academy added. “Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”

For Cobb County parent and former public school teacher Charis Granger-Mbugua, the decision to offer in-person learning should not be taken lightly. The Powder Springs resident said while it’s important for children to return to the classroom, that should not come at the expense of safety.

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Granger-Mbugua, who said she lost a mentor to COVID-19 in April, said the teachers she talks to want to return to the classroom, but don’t want to “go back at the expense of our lives and the lives of our loved ones.”

“Until there can be assurances, it is unfair to ask teachers to just march into school buildings without the necessary precautions taken,” she said.

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