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City Schools of Decatur makes plans to open middle and high school for hybrid schedule

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City Schools of Decatur makes plans to open middle and high school for hybrid schedule

Decatur High School, City Schools of Decatur, N McDonough Street.

By Sara Amis, contributor 

Decatur, GA — Renfroe Middle School Principal Greg Wiseman and Decatur High School Principal Rochelle Lofstrand at the Feb. 9 Decatur School Board meeting presented each school’s plans to return students to in-person learning.

At both schools, students who choose to do so will be attending half days on campus, picking up box lunches to take home, and attending afternoon classes virtually. Students can also choose to stay home and attend all classes virtually. For all students, some classes will be concurrent with their peers on or off campus or and some classes will be asynchronous.

Each school has two alternative plans depending on how many students will be attending in person.  At Decatur High School, if more than 45% of students wish to return to campus, students will be divided into two groups. One group will attend on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other will attend on Thursdays and Fridays.  If less than 45% of students choose to return to campus, all of those students will be able to attend four days a week while still maintaining small class sizes and social distancing.

Similarly, Renfroe Middle School will have students divided into two groups, each of which will attend half days, two days a week, assuming that 52% or more of students choose to return. Lengthier transition times are built into the schedule so that students will be able to enter and leave in an orderly way. For middle school students, the schedules of the in-person and virtual students will be flipped, with the in-person students attending their core classes in the mornings and the virtual students attending them in the afternoons.

Wednesdays will continue to be reserved for student catchup time, teacher-student consultations, and teacher planning time for both the middle and high school.

Both principals said that they would be ready to implement these plans no earlier than March 8, and that some finalization would depend on preference surveys from families.

“If we don’t get a choice from a family, we will be reaching out,” said Lofstrand.

Superintendent David Dude said that the district was not using any particular metric to decide when to open, but relying on their mitigation strategies and quarantine protocols to keep teachers, students, and staff safe.

He rejected the idea that the number of elementary school classes that have been quarantined in the district are evidence that return was premature.

“All of the quarantines are the result of us being cautious, not the result of us being incautious,”  said Dude.

Board member Lewis Jones said that he felt the current approach for the K-5 students was working. “Even with our very broad quarantine rules, we’ve been able to deliver in-person instruction to 90 percent of those who wanted it,” said Jones.

Board member Jana Johnson-Davis said that she would prefer to wait until teachers could be vaccinated. “Cases are dropping but Dr. Fauci said that by March the more contagious variant strains will be dominant,” said Johnson-Davis.

Board member Heather Tell asked how long parents would be held to their choices. Dude responded that parents would be given the chance to reassess at each new stage of the district’s unfolding reopening plans.

Public comment was sparse relative to recent months. Resident Susan Camp expressed concerns about the budget as presented at past meetings and the projected impact on the district’s reserves, while resident Kunle Oguneye asked that the district create an office of family engagement in support of equity goals.

“There are two Decaturs, and one is struggling,” said Oguneye.

Parents continued to be divided about returning to in-person schooling. “I just want to say that we’re in quarantine because of exposure, not because we’re being careful,” said resident April Biagioni. She added that new strains of the virus made the situation more dangerous, and that she believed teachers should be vaccinated before a return to in-person school.

Meridith Yancey, who has two children in CSD schools, said that returning to school has greatly improved both her children’s education and their mental health. “They aren’t doing great, but they’re doing ok, which is so much better than they were doing before,” said Yancey.

In her first Board Chair comment, Tasha White said, “I want to acknowledge that we’re struggling.  As parents, as educators, as board members,” said White.  She spoke of divisions politically and among neighbors and community members, and said that she wanted to focus on healing the community.

“We can’t show up for our kids if we’re broken,” added White.

Executive Director of Finance Lonita Broome offered an update on the fiscal year 2021 budget and the projected budget for 2022.

“The Georgia House has approved restoration of 60% of the austerity cuts for last year. This will restore $1.9 million to the 2021 budget.  The Georgia Senate is set to start considering the budget on Friday,” Broome said.  She added that the Georgia legislature would consider a restoration of austerity cuts to the 2022 budget separately, and that her projected budget included the assumption that it would pass. Restoration of the austerity cuts will significantly reduce the amount that the district will have to draw from reserves.

Kristy Beam, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, offered a presentation on the possibilities for remediation for students including summer and winter break intensives, Saturday schools, and hiring more teachers to offer support during regular school hours.

“We do anticipate that more students will need this kind of support,” said Beam, adding that the long term effects of the pandemic on education were likely to continue for many years. While hiring more teachers was the most expensive of the options suggested, at $1.9 million, Beam described it as “the most bang for your buck” in terms of student outcomes.

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