APS mulls reopening options, plans to announce decision in July

Atlanta Public Schools officials are mulling multiple scenarios for how to start the upcoming year amid the coronavirus pandemic. They’re reviewing how each option would impact transportation, nutrition, scheduling, health services, staffing and facilities. AJC/file photo

Atlanta Public Schools officials plan to announce a decision next month on what school will look like when classes begin Aug. 10.

A district team is considering multiple scenarios for how to start the upcoming year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The options include virtual learning, face-to-face instruction and a hybrid of the two. The model could be different for elementary, middle and high schools; and it could change during the year if the health situation worsens or improves.

Officials expect to make a decision after incoming superintendent Lisa Herring starts her job on July 1.

“All of this starts with the public health perspective,” said Katika Lovett, assistant superintendent of student services, who is among those studying the options. “For us, the safety and the wellness of our staff and our students is the utmost concern.”

APS, like other metro Atlanta districts, closed school buildings in mid-March. Students finished the year learning at home. The decision on how to reopen schools is among the district’s most closely watched and eagerly anticipated moves.

Richard Quartarone, president of the Atlanta Council of PTAs, said the school system needs to be “aggressively open” in its decision-making process. That’s needed for accountability purposes and also because it will help people understand the difficulty and complexity of the task. He said APS should clearly define what it will prioritize as it weighs options.

“Show me the work and give me opportunities to respond to what all of that looks like,” he said. “I know not every parent is going to be happy… . But I want to know what expertise is being brought in. I want to know what the process of making the decisions looks like.”

APS provided a draft document outlining the reopening options in response to an open-records request from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The document indicates that a daily, in-person model would be the most difficult to implement given safety guidelines, such as social distancing.

A hybrid approach could have half the students in a school building on scheduled days or weeks and then switching to virtual learning when the other half reports to the school.

Officials are recommending that students and staff wear masks and have their temperature checked upon arrival at school. The district would provide masks for students who don’t bring their own.

Lovett said leaders from across the district with expertise in health services, finances, human resources, schools, the law and communications are involved in the planning effort. Herring, who is working as a consultant before her official start date, also joins the group's virtual meetings.

The group is seeking input from principals, teachers and parents. For parents, they’re starting with a focus group made up of parent leaders at schools.

Each option will be analyzed through the lens of staffing needs, facilities, transportation, nutrition, scheduling and health services.

The district is working with public health officials to track how COVID-19 cases are trending, and the team will plan for several scenarios, Lovett said. The decision, she said, will be “heavily driven on where we are from the public health landscape.”

Read the draft reopening document

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