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As DeKalb County Schools moves forward with reopening, pay raise announced for eligible employees

COVID-19 Metro ATL

As DeKalb County Schools moves forward with reopening, pay raise announced for eligible employees

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DeKalb County School District Administration and Instructional Complex on Mtn. Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse
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Stone Mountain, GA — As DeKalb County Schools plans to reopen its doors to students on Jan. 19, the district announced a pay raise for its employees.

“During the July 24, 2020 special board meeting, the DeKalb County Board of Education approved a mid-year salary step increase effective the first workday in January 2021 for eligible employees,” the school district announced on Jan. 8. “This pay increase will begin with the January 15, 2021 paycheck. An appropriation of $6.13 million was approved by the board for this year’s salary step increase with an annualized cost of approximately $9.6 million. More than 11,000 employees are eligible for this step increase, approximately 6,000 are teachers.

“DCSD is the highest paying school district in metro Atlanta for teachers. Salary increases are essential as the District values its employees and their contributions in supporting our students. This annual step increase allows for an investment in quality teaching and learning for our students.”

The district’s plan to allow students to return to class on Jan. 19 has received pushback from teachers asked to return to the building on Jan. 4. Schools have been virtual since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent video message,  DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris announced that teachers with pending hardship and Americans With Disabilities Act requests were not required to return on Jan. 4. Teachers were supposed to return to the building on Jan. 4, a decision announced before the holiday break that lead to protests in front of the DeKalb County School District central offices. During the protests, several teachers expressed concern that their ADA requests were simply being ignored.

The superintendent said in that video she would provide “full update” on the district’s return to school plans at the Jan. 11 School Board meeting.

An email the superintendent sent to parents and students on Jan. 9 provided additional information about the ADA and hardship requests.

“Some of our employees have submitted a hardship request, which is a method by which you document a concern or issue you may have with returning to the building or your work schedule,” Watson-Harris wrote. “All employees are able to request a hardship. However, the alternate work assignment (AWA) may not be the same for all employees. The AWA is based on the primary duties of the employee. If the employee’s job requires them to be face to face, then working remotely should not be extended. A different option should be considered, such as an Adjusted Work Schedule or an Alternate Work Location/Area.”

Here is her full message distributed to parents on Jan. 9:

Greetings DeKalb County School District Family,

Happy New Year! I’m excited about being able to start anew in 2021. Thank you to all of our community stakeholders for your resiliency, hard work, patience, and courage in 2020. I look forward to the opportunity to finish this school year strong despite these unprecedented times.

I would also like to thank our staff who have had the responsibility of doing things that have never been done before in the history of education, and for that the district is grateful. I was thrilled to see so many teachers who were able to return while in the field visiting schools this week. Many expressed their commitment to our scholars and excitement about returning to the buildings. During my visits, I had the opportunity to observe safety signage, hand sanitizer stations, and virtual staff meetings. As we move forward with hybrid learning, please know that I am listening to your concerns. I do not want to diminish the challenges, but I feel encouraged by your efforts.

Building Readiness

A safe and healthy environment for face-to-face instruction is our top priority. The Operations team is utilizing building readiness standards to ensure every facility and school is ready to welcome staff and students back into a safe learning environment. DCSD school readiness includes key point inspections of the following:

– Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) & Hygiene Supplies

– Distribution of Cleaning Supplies & Procedures

– Socially Distant Seating and Space Arrangement

– Water Access

– Plumbing and HVAC Systems

– COVID-19 School Safety Signage

While DCSD is ready for the re-opening of schools, DCSD facilities are at a 75% preparedness rate. Building readiness is an ongoing process and District leadership will continue to conduct building walkthroughs and monitor new routines and safety protocols after students and staff return to face-to-face instruction.

As stated before the new year, the science has evolved based on updated guidance from the CDC including the positivity rate and the ability of schools to implement the five key mitigation strategies to lower the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in schools. Implementing these strategies will be key to ensuring our staff and scholars remain safe during this pandemic.

Mitigation Strategies

The CDC’s five key mitigation strategies to further reduce the level of risk of COVID-19 introduction and transmission inside the school are:

– Consistent and correct use of masks

– Social distancing to the largest extent possible

– Handwashing

– Cleaning and disinfecting

– Contact tracing in collaboration with DeKalb Board of Health

We encourage scholars to practice these strategies now, so that when re-entry begins mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand washing are familiar and second nature.

While handwashing is an important way to stop the spread of germs and lower the risk of spreading the COVID-19 Virus, handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not readily available – reduces the spread of germs that can cause illness, according to the CDC.  Both warm and cold water remove the same number of germs from your hands.

All safety protocols align with the health guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the DeKalb County Board of Health to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  For more information on proper handwashing, please visit the CDC website, and for Operations COVID-19 related guidance, please visit https://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/school-reopening/safety-protocol/.

Employees and Alternate Work Assignments

We understand that employees are doing what is best for their families and their wellbeing is essential to supporting our scholars and district. Some of our employees have submitted a hardship request, which is a method by which you document a concern or issue you may have with returning to the building or your work schedule.  All employees are able to request a hardship. However, the alternate work assignment (AWA) may not be the same for all employees. The AWA is based on the primary duties of the employee. If the employee’s job requires them to be face to face, then working remotely should not be extended. A different option should be considered, such as an Adjusted Work Schedule or an Alternate Work Location/Area.

Eligible employees may qualify and apply for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Employees, who believe they have a medical condition and qualify for ADA accommodations, must complete an ADA application and provide supporting medical certification to begin the process.  Human Resources is committed to being responsive throughout the application process and, if approved, the creation of an appropriate plan.

If there are concerns or questions, please share them with your immediate supervisor. If you were not able to return immediately, I know it was a difficult decision. Please be assured that if you submitted a temporary hardship request, your concerns have been reviewed and considered by the District.  All Hardship Request Applications will be reviewed and honored for a 30-day period up to February 2, 2021. Forms are available on the Employee Portal under the Human Resources Division Resources page. Again, thank you so much for your hard work and resilience as we navigate these unprecedented times.

DCSD Families

As our families are deciding whether re-entry is the right choice for them, please continue to visit our re-opening site for important information regarding virtual learning, transportation, safety protocols, and more. I also encourage our families to watch our Board meeting on January 11, 2021, at 11:30 am for the Virtual Community Input Meeting.  We will provide important updates regarding face-to-face instruction. You can watch this meeting on channel 24 in DeKalb County or on DSTV online.

On Saturday, January 9, we celebrate School Resource Officer Day. We would like to thank our School Resource Officers for their commitment to the safety of our students, staff, families, and community.

Finally, many of our scholars, staff, and families witnessed civil unrest this week as our nation’s Capitol came under attack. These images were troubling and scary for our young scholars. Let us use this time to listen and set the tone for positive and caring conversations about differences of opinion. After experiencing such a challenging 2020, our students need our support and a safe space for sharing concerns and ideas.

I look forward to a brighter year in 2021 and encourage our strong village to press onward and upward!

Your #1 Cheerleader,

Cheryl Watson-Harris

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