DeKalb Schools announces its school year will end early

DeKalb County Board of Education chairman Marshall Orson and DeKalb County School District Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson listen to a speaker during a recent school board meeting. AJC FILE PHOTO
DeKalb County Board of Education chairman Marshall Orson and DeKalb County School District Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson listen to a speaker during a recent school board meeting. AJC FILE PHOTO

Other metro districts may follow

The DeKalb County School District announced Tuesday that it will end the current school year early for its students, a move made cautiously while weighing the costs and benefits for students amid the coronavirus pandemic.

ExploreSchool will end on May 8 for seniors and May 15 for other grades.

The district's students have been learning from home for about a month as much of Georgia has shut down to help curb the spread of COVID-19, where more than 12,000 have been infected and more than 500 have died. Students initially were set to end the school year on May 21.

DeKalb isn’t the first Georgia school district to cancel classes, but it is by far the largest and is in metro Atlanta, where many students come from low-income families and single-parent households where school lunch is seen as an imperative, classroom time a necessity. Other metro districts are debating whether to join DeKalb, but worry about the costs associated with it.

“We’ve been trying to find the balance of if we get back (to classrooms), while understanding the reality that we might not get back,” Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said.

Under the end-of-year plan, students will receive final grades based on the work they did through March 13. Work from digital learning days will only be used to improve a student’s score. Students who were not passing will be allowed to take a competency assessment and take part in make-up classes. Seniors who were not on course to graduate as of March 13 will be able to take summer school in order to be approved for graduation before the fall semester begins. Otherwise, they will return to the district in the fall as a “retained 12th-grade student.”

The district began working down two paths after schools closed in March, Tyson said. That included developing a plan for whether schools reopened this school year or did not. For now, she said, the district’s employees will look toward finishing out the current school year and begin work on summer learning, where remediation and skills recovery would begin. Preparation will follow for the upcoming school year, working with students on what they missed the previous year to get them caught up to where they should be from a lesson standpoint.

DeKalb joins at least 10 school districts and state charters who already announced plans to end the school year early. Already, districts had announced plans to alter the learning schedule, with several opting for three- and four-day school weeks.

Gwinnett announced last week it would go to a four-day school week — with Fridays off from digital learning — until May 8. It would then continue with digital learning days until May 20, the last day of school originally listed on the district's calendar.

“We do think that a 180-day school year is important in making sure we have time to cover the curriculum students need in order to be ready for next year,” Gwinnett County Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said.

Fulton County announced recently that seniors would end the school year on May 1, with Superintendent Mike Looney telling seniors in a letter he would ask principals to consult with the seniors about a modified graduation ceremony of some sort, even virtual. Officials have not yet said whether they will end the school year early for other students.

School districts across the state began instituting digital learning on or after March 12, when state officials asked schools to close to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. The results, so far, have been mixed, with some districts facing low student participation for myriad reasons, including access to necessary technology.

Kimberly Wright had hopes of watching her only daughter go to prom and walk across the stage at Stephenson High School. The move by the district to end the year early brings finality to Genesis Wright’s high school career, her mother said.

“This is my only daughter,” Kimberly Wright said. “This meant a lot. We’re very upset at the fact that she won’t get to walk across a stage.”

Instead, Genesis’ family is turning its attention toward the future, and an upcoming freshman year at Georgia State University, though they don’t know whether it will begin in a brick-and-mortar setting or by virtual meetings.

In Other News