Will APS reopen this school year? Carstarphen answers parent questions

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is shown in this screen-grab from a Thursday, March 26, virtual town hall  during which she took questions from parents and employees about the district's response to the coronavirus.
Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is shown in this screen-grab from a Thursday, March 26, virtual town hall during which she took questions from parents and employees about the district's response to the coronavirus.

Nearly two weeks after Atlanta Public Schools closed buildings amid the coronavirus pandemic, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said it’s still too soon to say if in-person instruction will resume this school year.

Carstarphen discussed that lingering question and answered other queries from parents and employees during a one-hour online town hall on Facebook. About 1,700 viewers were watching Thursday’s virtual event during peak times, and the livestream already had amassed more than 10,000 views and 1,000 comments by the time it ended.

Those who missed the live event can watch a replay here on Facebook. 

Here are some highlights from the town hall:

When will school buildings reopen? 

APS held its last day of in-school instruction on March 13. On Thursday, the governor announced all public schools would remain closed through April 24. 

Carstarphen told the live video audience that officials have not yet decided if school buildings will reopen this school year. The last scheduled day of the APS school year is May 22.

“It’s too early to say whether or not schools are going to be closed through the end of May,” Carstarphen said.

She said the governor plans to make a recommendation to schools about reopening, information she expects to have before April 24.

The uncertainty “causes all kinds of angst” especially for high school seniors who have been looking forward to prom and graduation ceremonies, Carstarphen acknowledged. She said high school leaders are talking about how to handle those situations.

>>How is your school handling this extended closure? Are classes online or on paper? Are teachers using video conferences? Let us know at CoronavirusEducation@ajc.com

How much time should students be spending daily on school work and lessons? 

Carstarphen provided parents with some guidance about how much time their children should be spending doing school work while learning from home.

Kindergarten through fifth graders should not exceed more than three hours a day on lessons and 40 minutes on independent practice or assignments. Middle schoolers should spend no more than four hours a day, plus no more than an hour on assignments. High schoolers should spend no more than five hours a day on school work, plus about 90 minutes for assignments.

Will APS still have spring break? 

Carstarphen said the district will still be on a break from April 6-10. That means students are not doing teleschooling and employees are not teleworking.

What if my child doesn’t have a technology device or internet? 

Contact your school or teacher to get a computer device, Carstarphen said. She said the district also is urging businesses and telecommunication companies to open up wifi hotspots so there is free access throughout the city.

Will students be graded on work done at home? 

The district is waiving some of the normal grading practices. Carstarphen said teachers will be required to give a minimum of five grades in core classes for the last quarter of the school year, instead of a minimum of eight grades per quarter. In high schools that run on a four-by-four schedule, teachers will assign five grades for every four-and-a-half weeks, she said.

Students should not receive a “zero” grade for any behavioral reasons, including failure to complete or hand in a virtual assignment. Students who have not provided evidence of mastery should have an opportunity to redo those assignments, Carstarphen said. Educators are trying to create multiple opportunities for students to complete that work, she said.

Will there be summer make-up days? 

“We haven’t figured out how we are going to manage the summer,” Carstarphen said.

Will the 2020-2021 school year start early?

Carstarphen said the district also hasn’t decided if it will resume school earlier in the fall.

“As it stands right now we haven’t made any of those decisions,” she said. “I don’t have a crystal ball, and neither do you.”

What about state assessments? 

Carstarphen said spring testing will not take place.

Is the district cleaning the schools? 

Carstarphen said the district is doing a thorough cleaning in school buildings. Cleaners are disinfecting furniture and “high-touch points,” according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

Will employees be laid off or furloughed? 

No, said Carstarphen: “You’ve got more than enough to worry about.”

Will free food distribution for APS students continue? 

The district is continuing to offer distribution at a handful of anchor schools and is sending school buses out into the community to deliver meals up until spring break. 

APS will be closed during spring break, so district-run food distribution sites will not be open. On the Saturday of the first weekend of spring break, the district plans to work with partners to offer food to help students get through the week. Carstarphen said more details will be announced at a later date.

The district is trying to raise money from private donations to support additional food distribution, she said. More information on donating can be found here.

After spring break, the district expects to tweak its food distribution plan. APS will likely plan to send buses out once a week to deliver a week's worth of food instead of sending out buses daily. That will be more efficient for drivers and also cut down on the number of times people have to come out to bus stops. It will also help people remain physically distant from others, which is crucial to stopping the spread of the virus.

What are some tips for doing school at home? 

Carstarphen advised parents and students to stick to a regular schedule. Students should try to keep a normal bedtime. They should wake up, and even put on their school uniform while at home to get in the academic mindset.