Friday’s update expands the in-person option to allow students up to fifth grade to return to school buildings four days a week starting Oct. 26. Wednesdays would be reserved for at-home independent work, providing time for mid-week cleaning and for teachers to complete training.
Also new on Friday, the district announced that middle and high school students would be given the option of returning to in-person classes four days a week starting Nov. 16.
In a Friday interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Herring said that expanded in-person options came about after she heard feedback from teachers and instructional experts about how to best schedule the school day. She also acknowledged hearing from parents who wanted more options, though she said she’s also heard from those who feel safer at home.
“We recognize that it is still a need for us to continue virtual as an option for our students,” she said, adding that “there are parents and families who have expressed their desire to return.”
Students in all grades will continue to have the option to stay enrolled in virtual classes taught by teachers at their school or to enroll in the district’s full-time online Atlanta Virtual Academy.
A vocal contingent of parents have campaigned in recent weeks for more in-person options for students. More than 2,800 people signed an online petition. They put up a billboard in Midtown.
Brown said she had to leave her job working in community outreach for her church in order to help her young children with virtual school.
Parents have been frustrated by what they saw as inadequate and incomplete district plans. Some viewed it as hypocritical that APS allowed high school sports to continue while not allowing in-person learning. District officials said they wrestled with that decision and relied on guidance from the Georgia High School Association. They said they wanted to make sure student athletes wouldn’t lose scholarship opportunities.
Chris Fitzgerald, a mother of two middle school students, wanted an in-person, full-time option but said she’s “happy to compromise.”
”I really want to get my kids back in school as soon as possible and obviously one day of working online is a whole lot better than five,” she said.
Face-to-face lessons will be far superior to online classes, which she said were interrupted almost daily by technology issues. She also cited the social benefits of having her children back in school and feeling more connected.
The move to reopen buildings drew concern from Atlanta Federation of Teachers president Verdaillia Turner.
“This pandemic will not last forever,” she said. “But when a child is dead, when a teacher is dead, a parent is dead that will last forever. So don’t be pressured to open schools back up.”
The district reported that 72% of school-based employees indicated they are able to return this month. Teachers who are not assigned to in-person classes will have the option of working from their empty classroom with a supervisor’s permission, according to the plan.
Parents need to declare by Oct. 12 which option they have chosen for their child for the remainder of the first semester, which ends Jan. 15.