Atlanta Public Schools to return in-person with new, reinforced COVID-19 protocolsAtlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring. Photo obtained via Atlanta Public Schools
Atlanta, GA — Atlanta Public Schools will return to the classroom on Monday, Jan. 10, with new COVID-19 protocols, reinforcement of existing protocols and bolstered resources, the district announced in a press release.
“Our strength is that we have been here before. Our longstanding practices and procedures put us in the position of being prepared versus reactive,” APS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring said. “The spike in positive cases may result in fluctuations as APS continues to monitor incoming data and pivot to virtual learning on a case-by-case basis, per class and per school, as necessary. However, if we all do our part, in-person learning can be maintained wherever possible, much as we have done throughout this pandemic.”
The school district this week began the semester virtually due to the rise in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant. A presentation to Atlanta Public Schools’ staff obtained by Decaturish shows that low vaccination rates in Atlanta, high community spread and difficulties in obtaining tests were considered before deciding to switch back to remote learning.
The school system will implement a new test-to-stay protocol, which is also known as a modified quarantine, at all schools and work sites for students and staff starting on Jan. 18.
In order for students to participate, this option requires parental consent, but gives students the chance to participate in modified quarantine guidelines.
When a positive case is identified, students and staff who were in close contact with the individual will be notified and evaluated for symptoms. Close contacts who have consented to do the test-to-stay option would be allowed to stay in school or work with a negative COVID-19 test result as long as they don’t have symptoms. They must also continue to test negative throughout the 10 days after their exposure, the press release states.
Anyone who tests positive or develops symptoms will be sent home to isolate. Those who don’t consent to test will have to quarantine at home for the recommended 10 days.
“The test-to-stay protocol will provide additional and more immediate data for decision-making purposes, and will give families an alternative to help keep their students in school,” the district said in an announcement.
APS will offer surveillance testing for students and district employees at nine cluster sites on Thursday and Friday from noon to 6 p.m.
Here is a list of the testing sites:
The COVID-19 testing will provide APS with data that may be used for contact tracing as the district prepares to reopen schools for in-person learning on Monday. Surveillance testing this week is voluntary for employees and students.
APS is aiming to increase the number of parents who have consented to have their student partake in the voluntary surveillance testing. According to the press release, about 20% of parents have consented.
To sign up, click here.
The district is planning additional virtual stakeholder engagement events for parents. Details will be announced once the events are scheduled.
When schools reopen next week, mandatory surveillance testing for employees will continue. They will have to be tested twice a week for COVID-19. Voluntary testing for students will also be increased to twice a week once schools reopen.
APS plans to reinforce the following existing protocols when in-person learning resumes:
— Continued use of fogging machines for commercial-grade cleaning/sanitizing of schools and buses.
— Continued twice daily wipe downs and overnight cleaning of high touch common areas.
— Continued urging of frequent handwashing and use of hand sanitizer.
— Continued limited use of APS facilities by outside entities or organizations.
To bolster the mitigation resources, the district will place state-of-the-art air filtration units in all classrooms in its traditional schools, which will be about 5,000 units. The installation will begin the first week of February.
The school system is also hosting a free COVID-19 vaccination event in partnership with Viral Solutions on Jan. 8.
The district additionally provided some factors that are considered for pivoting to virtual learning, which include:
— The overall school positivity rate of COVID-19 detection is equal to or greater than 5% of the student/staff population.
— The county in which the school is located is experiencing high community spread as defined by the Georgia Department of Public Health.
If both conditions exist, APS will assess the information gathered as part of the standard case investigation protocol; assess the impact on instructional staffing and operations; and consult the local department of public health for additional guidance before making a final decision.
“Our core business is teaching and learning, and we have to balance that with the health and safety of all,” Herring said. “That is what APS is striving to achieve.”
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