City Schools of Decatur teachers blast reopening plan during meeting with SuperintendentA teacher holds a sign that reads, “Until cases decline, stay online" during a Sept. 22 protest against City Schools of Decatur's reopening plan. Photo by Alex Brown
By Sara Amis, contributor
Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur recently announced a plan to return to in-person learning in November. Staff will return to work in the buildings October 12.
Superintendent Dr. David Dude held a virtual town hall for CSD teachers and staff on September 30 in order to address their concerns.
Members of the Teachers Advisory Council, speaking for their colleagues, expressed dismay at both the decision-making process and the time frame of the reopening plan. Teachers had previously stated their preference to continue with virtual learning through surveys and at a meeting of TAC on September 15. Dude had indicated at the September 8 board meeting that he was considering keeping the schools closed through December.
“You said you wanted time to return in a way that the majority of teachers are ready to come back and feel confident that informed decisions are being made and proper precautions are being taken. We don’t see how the data matches this decision,” said Kimberly White, a member of TAC who also teaches at Oakhurst Elementary.
In explaining why he thought it was safe to return to school, Dude stated that the standard recommended by the CDC was more restrictive than the standards some neighboring school districts are using.
“Our moving average of cases has been declining since early July. We’ve heard for months that the standard that we need to see is that positive tests need to fall below 5%,” said Dude.
Dude stated that 91% of the teachers surveyed at Renfroe Middle School had said that they would be comfortable returning to school if the rate of community transmission stayed below 5%.
“I have some good news. The rate of transmission has stayed below 5% since September 3, and it’s currently below 3.5%,” said Dude. He added that while the total number of cases remains relatively high, the metrics on in-patient hospital use and ICU use were in the “low risk” category.
CSD’s data dashboard based on a rubric provided by the CDC, indicates that the total number of new cases, classified as a “core indicator,” remains in the “higher risk” category. In-patient bed use is at a “lower risk” level, while ICU bed use dropped to lower risk but has risen back to “moderate risk” in the last week.
Teachers asked if they would have the option to stay at home until their students return to class, rather than return with other staff on October 12; they also asked how the district planned to help them manage child care during the transition period.
Dude responded that his original plan was for all staff including teachers to return simultaneously, but that he would consider modifying that plan. Supervised learning pods will be available free of charge for all CSD students, and Dude said that the district would make accommodations for children of staff members who may not be CSD students for a small fee.
“We are aiming at less than $20 per week,” said Dude.
In response to a question about whether teachers would be allowed to have the option to continue teaching virtually, Dude said it could not be simply a choice but that for those who had higher risks there was an accommodation process. Allowing high-risk teachers to support in-person teachers from home is a possibility Dude said he would consider.
CSD school nurses and staff support employees have completed contact tracing training, and will notify both those who may have been exposed and the community if there is a case.
“We are going to be as transparent as we can with any cases that we end up having in our district, and notify everyone who might be impacted,” said Dude.
Schedules for the middle and high school may shift in order to accommodate cohorts staying together and minimize transitions, said Dude. Other schools should be able to keep schedules consistent.
Mask-wearing will be mandatory and is now part of the dress code for students.
“What experts have shared with us over and over again is that wearing masks will help limit transmission of the virus,” said Dude.
Teachers wanted to know if additional planning time would be provided so that they can manage the additional workload of teaching in person and virtually at the same time. Dude responded that the district was still figuring that out, but that they could expect about the same amount of planning time as in the past.
In their closing remarks, the TAC criticized the “uncertainty” of some of Dude’s responses, and reiterated some of their previously stated concerns.
“We are solidly in a pandemic without a reliable vaccine for many months,” said Kimberly White.
She added, “There are lasting and unclear long-term health impacts with COVID-19 that we are just beginning to understand. Our African American community is twice as likely to become ill and die from the effects of COVID-19. The majority of teachers are weighing leaving their jobs or risking their and their family’s health.”
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