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DeKalb County Schools to delay teachers returning to buildings

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DeKalb County Schools to delay teachers returning to buildings

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DeKalb County School District Administration and Instructional Complex on Mtn. Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse


This story has been updated. 

By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor 

DeKalb County, GA — DeKalb Teachers on Oct. 14 learned that their expected return to the classroom next week has been delayed.

That means a return to in-person learning for students also will be delayed. Students have been learning virtually since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s currently no official date on when teachers will return, according to teachers who attended an Oct. 14 town hall meeting with the superintendent. An email sent to employees of one elementary obtained by Decaturish said Nov. 10 is a tentative return date, but that will depend on the level of community spread.

The news comes as the school district is asking parents whether or not they plan to return to school of in-person learning becomes an option. The school district would phase in students in a hybrid learning model that would combine in-person and virtual experiences.

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School Board member Allyson Gevertz also shared a summary of the meeting on her Facebook page:

Parents were expected to declare by Oct. 16 whether their student is planning to return for hybrid, in-person learning or stay virtual. That deadline has been extended to Oct. 23.

Teachers report that many parents have not seen this form letter. An elementary teacher in South DeKalb said not even their principal has seen the form letter. Two of their coworkers, teachers in DCSD who have kids in DeKalb schools, also have not received the form.

A high school teacher said working in low-income areas, some of which hardest hit by COVID-19, has been exhausting.

“We have seen the bad stuff. Teachers are scared we will be the ones hit, the ones suffering if this goes bad. No one has been excited to return,” they said. “It’s a Sisyphean task.”

Like other districts in metro Atlanta, the DeKalb County School District is basing a return to classrooms on the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the county.

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris sent an email to teachers updating them about the number of local cases:

“DCSD continues to monitor the data of COVID-19 cases in DeKalb County, and acknowledges that there has been a significant decline in the 14-day average per 100,000 DeKalb County residents from 122 cases on Sept. 12 to 93 cases [Oct. 6]. During the phase-in process, families will receive an Intent to Return notification electronically on Oct. 9. Keep in mind, families will have the option of continuing virtual learning. DCSD families have the opportunity to make the right choice for their children. You will receive an electronic notification on Oct. 9 to opt-in or continue with distance/remote learning. Additional information will be posted on website.”

But that number has begun to increase again. As of Oct. 14, the 14-day average is 101, according to the state Department of Public Health’s statistics about DeKalb County.

In a town hall meeting Oct. 14, teachers were told of improvements to school buildings including HVAC updates, plumbing maintenance, and cleaning protocols. No additional janitorial staff will be hired, but each school will receive a two-month supply of cleaning and disinfecting materials as well as bathroom products.

The district is updating its technology as well.

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DCSD says teachers will be responsible for teaching students in-person and virtual concurrently. That could lead to high burnout rate, said one teacher.

The high school teacher added, “I am going to be the best teacher I can be, but not at the expense of my students’ and my family’s health.”

Nikole Howard, media specialist and representative of advocacy group The Organization of DeKalb Educators, said there are some students who would greatly benefit from being back in the classroom like special education students, and students experiencing homelessness and food insecurity.

Howard is putting her trust into the hands of Watson-Harris.

“The superintendent made a commitment to stay guided by the numbers,” she said. “Her coming from New York and having first-hand experience? I trust her to stand by her word.”

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