Some Atlanta students could return to classrooms next month

Superintendent Lisa Herring talks with Kiersten Hellier-Hunter's 7th-grade class over zoom on the first day of class at David T. Howard Middle School, Monday, August 25, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Some Atlanta Public Schools students could return to classrooms part-time in late October.

Superintendent Lisa Herring presented the district’s phased-in reopening plan this week during a school board meeting and an online forum watched by several thousand viewers. APS moved classes online in mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic forced school buildings to close. The new school year began Aug. 24 with virtual-only instruction.

Under Herring’s proposal, certain special education students as well as students in prekindergarten through second grade could opt for in-person learning starting Oct. 26.

Some parents have clamored for an in-person option, while others have expressed concern about keeping teachers and students safe.

“I know that there are those who have been ready for a return and that there are those who desire to wait even longer,” Herring said. “We hear and understand the need for choice.”

Her plan, which will be finalized in the coming weeks, would resume in-person instruction for the district’s youngest students and those with special needs, two groups for whom virtual learning can be especially challenging.

Prekindergarten through second grade students would be split into two groups alphabetically by last name. One group would attend in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and do virtual learning the remainder of the week. The second group would attend school in-person on Thursdays and Fridays and remain at home the first three days of the week.

Certain special education students, including those with autism, those who are hearing impaired and those with moderate to severe disabilities, also would have the option of returning to buildings. Those students would attend class in-person every day but Wednesday.

Wednesdays would be used for independent virtual learning and providing additional support to students who need it. APS plans to deep clean buildings mid-week and over the weekend.

Several parents urged the district to bring students back full-time, to include older students and to provide more specifics.

“Other districts around us, adjacent to APS are already going back five days a week and so we need to know why APS cannot do the same,” said Julie Tracy, a parent of three Atlanta students, during the board meeting.

District officials have stated that the goal is to return children to the classroom, but the plan presented this week represents only “a small step” in that direction, said Amy Lambert.

She called for APS to provide detailed plans, not “vague metrics” for when schools will fully reopen.

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APS officials said classrooms can reopen under the proposed hybrid model if there’s minimal to moderate spread of the virus, defined as six to 100 cases per 100,000 residents for a two-week period. Early this week, there were 125 cases per 100,000 Fulton County residents, according to an APS document.

Herring said while that data point is the “lead indicator," additional factors also will be considered. Officials said those include district preparedness and other public health numbers.

All students and staff must wear masks while in school buildings. The district also plans to conduct temperature checks.

Chief of Schools Anita Williams said the goal is to keep the in-person class sizes between 10 and 15 students. Smaller class sizes will allow desks to be spread out so that students can practice social distancing.

Parents will be sent a survey next week to indicate if they want to select the in-person option or continue with virtual learning.

The district has not announced a potential return date for older students in grades three through 12. Herring said she plans to provide an update at the board’s Oct. 5 meeting.

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