When pressed, DeKalb County Schools declines to cite metric in reopening decision
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DeKalb County, GA — When news first broke that DeKalb County Schools had set a date for a return to in-person learning, the media reported that a new metric was being used in making that decision.
DeKalb County Schools have been virtual since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously, the school district was determining whether to reopen based on the number of cases per 100,000 people. Anything less than 100 cases per 100,000 was deemed a green light to begin the reopening process. But the Atlanta Journal Constitution last week reported that positivity rate was now the metric the school district would use to determine whether to reopen on Jan. 19.
The AJC reported, “Positivity rates greater than 10% will require online-only learning for all students, according to the new metrics.”
The district didn’t dispute that reporting or its citation in Decaturish. And a presentation given to staff appeared to support that assertion. Here’s a slide from the presentation shared with Decaturish:
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But that metric doesn’t appear anywhere on the district’s website or in its official communications regarding reopenings. Staffers who spoke to Decaturish said it was their understanding that schools would reopen on Jan. 19 no matter the rate of community spread or positivity rate for COVID-19 cases.
Decaturish put this question to the district, and the district declined to provide a clear answer about whether a high positivity rate will derail the district’s reopening plans. Here’s the full statement provided via a district spokesperson:
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These are uncharted waters for the DeKalb County School District. The future response to the COVID-19 pandemic is extremely difficult to predetermine and must be situational. The District values all employees and is collaborating with staff to provide flexible options and alternate work assignments when needed.
Revised CDC guidance suggests that school decisions relative to COVID-19 not be made by any single indicator. “Multiple variables must be considered.” (CDC, 2020). Per the CDC’s guidance, the positivity rate is utilized as one of the indicators to assess the “risk of transmission” in the school. The focus of the assessment is to implement mitigation strategies and response to illness plans to the greatest extent possible to minimize spread in the school and community.
Per the CDC’s guidance, please be advised that school district officials are reviewing all available COVID-19 data/information daily and collaborating with health officials. Although the number of COVID-19 cases has increased, DCSD’s leadership, with guidance from the COVID-19 Task Force, CDC, and DeKalb County Board of Health, agrees that we must be vigilant and focus on the mitigation strategies to reduce transmission and prepare for re-opening schools in January 2021. As we plan to return to face-to-face learning, any significant changes relative to the status of COVID-19 will be discussed and considered. At that time, the Superintendent reserves the right to revise the plan, particularly if there are suggestions from health officials or executive orders from government leaders.
Decaturish again asked the spokesperson whether a specific positivity rate is being used in determining whether to reopen schools. This story will be updated when the district responds.
Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris’ newsletter sent to parents today reminds them that the choice to return to in-person schooling is optional and also includes links to articles about other school districts that have reopened despite the surge in COVID-19 cases. Here is her full letter to parents:
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