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Low student vaccination rate a factor in Atlanta Public Schools’ decision to go virtual

COVID-19 Kirkwood and East Lake Metro ATL Trending

Low student vaccination rate a factor in Atlanta Public Schools’ decision to go virtual

RN Eareina Black draws up a dose of pediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a free vaccination clinic for 5 to 11-year-olds at the City Schools of Decatur Central Office board room on Friday, Dec. 10. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Atlanta, GA — The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is tearing through communities, but many school districts have forged ahead and planned to return to in-person learning, according to the Washington Post.

In Atlanta, DeKalb County, Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools have decided to begin the semester virtually. City Schools of Decatur decided to bring students and teachers back today, Jan. 4.

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 presentation to staff was delivered during a town hall meeting with staff on Jan. 3 and the document was created by APS Program Director Thomas Munn. A spokesperson for the district confirmed the authenticity of the document but didn’t have anything to add.

The numbers tell their own story about why APS decided to delay a return to in-person learning.

The document shows 455 school staff and 261 students self-reported reported a positive COVID-19 case to the district between Dec. 18 and Jan 3. APS employs more than 5,000 teachers and serves more than 50,00 students.

APS officials told staff that COVID cases through Atlanta are astonishingly high.

“During the most recent 14 day reporting period, Atlanta saw an 860.8% increase in COVID 19 cases compared to the previous 14-day reporting period,” the document says.

The document shows a low vaccination rate among students and says more than half of staff are fully vaccinated as of Dec. 1.

So far, City Schools of Decatur is the only school system in Georgia known to have mandated vaccines for staff and the district recently mandated booster shots for staff. At the School Board meeting on Dec. 14, CSD Superintendent Maggie Fehrman announced that 92% of the district’s employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In August, the School Board considered requiring eligible students to be fully vaccinated, but Fehrman previously announced that the district does not have the authority to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students.

In Atlanta Public Schools, the overall staff vaccination rate is 60.5 percent for school-based staff as of Dec. 1. The vaccination rate is 55.7 percent for all district staff. The employee vaccination rate listed in the document is for fully vaccinated staff.

School Board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown cautioned that the number of fully vaccinated staff might actually be higher, noting that she has had trouble uploading her vaccination card to the district’s reporting system. She heard previously that more than 80 percent of staff had received at least one vaccination.

“They have not verified me and I know I’m vaccinated,” she said.

According to the numbers given to APS staff, only 21 percent of students are fully or partially vaccinated as of Nov. 29. The COVID-19 vaccine was approved for 5 to 11-year-olds in early November.

“Of those hospitalized for any reason and tested for COVID-19, 96% were unvaccinated,” the APS presentation says. The school district is holding another vaccination event on Jan. 8.

Here are the details about the upcoming APS vaccination event:

Image obtained via APS

The document breaks down how the district used these data points to arrive at its decision, and it took into consideration low vaccination rates among students.

According to the document, APS used the following facts to guide its decision:

– Current community transmission is high

– Current 14 day incidence rate in Atlanta is above 1,000 per 100,000 population . This is the highest incidence rate seen in Atlanta throughout the COVID-19 pandemic

– Low vaccination rates among APS students

– Low vaccination rate in the Atlanta community

– Difficulty obtaining a COVID-19 test in the community

Source: APS

The week of virtual learning will also give the district a chance to promote its Jan. 8 vaccination event and a chance to test more staff and students, the document says.

To read the presentation given to teachers on Jan. 3, click here.

Each school district has had to weigh the costs to student achievement against the risks posed by the Omicron strain. Each district offered similar reasons for switching to remote learning this week.

“No single condition or data point determines the school district’s operating status,” a spokesperson for DeKalb County Schools said. “Instead, a combination of multiple dynamic factors determines the operating status, including daily COVID-19 exposure and positive reports from stakeholders; staff and student absenteeism rates; local school’s ability to implement the mitigating strategies; and maintaining appropriate staffing for essential functions of the school and district.”

The DeKalb County Schools spokesperson said the district considered the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, a spike in pediatric cases and hospitalizations, increases in case numbers and positivity rates, and demand for tests.

“In light of the recent surges in COVID-19 cases in the state and county, the DeKalb County School District wants to ensure that our employees are safe and healthy as we prepare for the return to school,” the spokesperson for DeKalb County Schools said. “The district is offering flexible scheduling and collaborating with Our Community Healthcare System to offer PCR COVID-19 testing for staff on January 3 and 4.”

The spokesperson said DeKalb County Schools is tracking the same data that APS disclosed to staff on Jan. 3 and referred Decaturish to this link. However, the link only lists student and teacher COVID-19 cases reported before the holiday break that began on Dec. 20. There appears to be no data about teachers who might have been absent this week due to COVID-19 or information about teacher and student vaccination rates on the district’s COVID-19 website.

A spokesperson for Atlanta Public Schools spoke in general terms about the basis for that district’s decision to start the year virtually before Decaturish received the presentation given to staff.

“Given the substantial increase in the community transmission rate of COVID-19 for Fulton and Dekalb Counties, and the need to further assess the positivity rate of employees; APS will begin second semester virtually,” the spokesperson said. “This will allow students and staff to test, complete needed isolation and quarantine periods in alignment with updated Department of Public Health and CDC guidance, and participate in vaccination opportunities. We will continue to monitor data and consult with public health officials as we prepare to resume in-person learning after this time. We analyze multiple factors – including incidences, positivity rates, etc., in Fulton and DeKalb County – as well as all available public health data from the CDC, Georgia DPH and Fulton County BOH.”

Reporter Zoe Seiler contributed to this story.

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