If the COVID-19 cases in DeKalb County continue declining, DeKalb County School District officials anticipate starting the phased reopening of schools by Oct. 5. But some Board of Education members are skeptical.
Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris and the DCSD COVID-19 Task Force presented a tentative schedule and plan to start phasing back into face-to-face learning during a Sept. 14 DeKalb County Board of Education meeting.
“I’m just a ball of anxiety, to be honest with you,” said board member Vickie Turner, who thought it was too soon to reintroduce students and staff into schools. “I don’t want to lose any lives. I don’t want us to give into the pressure.”
Athletic competition would return even earlier, by Oct. 1 depending on the COVID-19 case data, according to the presentation, and would have COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
District officials say that the spread of COVID-19 in the county is slowing. If the trend continues, DCSD staff would return to the buildings for two days a week for two weeks starting on Oct. 5 as the first phase of hybrid learning, according to the presentation by the COVID-19 Task Force to the board. Students for those two weeks would continue to do remote learning.
The two weeks are for teachers to prepare for the return of students, according to district officials. The district would do a test run of face-to-face learning on Oct. 15 and 16 for one grade level per school — second, sixth and ninth grade — before introducing the rest of the students into schools, according to the presentation.
From Oct. 19 to Nov. 6, teachers and staff would work five days in the schools while students do one day of face-to-face learning per week, three days of remote learning and one day of independent learning, according to the presentation.
From Nov. 9 to Nov. 20, students would have two days of face-to-face learning. By Nov. 30, the district anticipates returning to five days of traditional learning for all teachers and students.
Watson-Harris said that schedule is subject to change depending on the spread of the virus. The district plans to partner with more external medical professionals and keep analyzing the data as flu season starts, Watson-Harris said.
As of the Sept. 14 meeting, district officials said there are 122 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 DeKalb County residents over a 14-day period. Officials consider that “substantial spread,” which means the district continues with remote learning, according to the presentation.
Officials anticipate the county will have six to 100 positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents by Oct. 5, which is considered “low to moderate spread,” and would prompt the first phase of hybrid learning, according to the presentation.
If those dates do not line up with the decline of COVID-19 data as anticipated, district officials said the teachers and community would have a one-week notice for when the first phase of hybrid learning will begin after COVID-19 positive cases drop below 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. The first phase of hybrid learning would be only staff in the school buildings.
Watson-Harris said parents would have the option to keep their student home to do remote learning during a phased reopening. Parents could decide at four-and-a-half-week benchmarks whether to let their students go back to the building or take them out of the building.
During the meeting, Watson-Harris and the COVID-19 Task Force presented the safety precautions that will be in place when students and teachers return to the building, which are available here.
Everyone entering the building will be required to wear masks, Watson-Harris said, and the district has plans for extra sanitation, facility updates and social distancing when students come back to school.
Some board members thought the plan phased back into face-to-face learning too soon, noting that the district has many teachers and students of color, who are at a greater risk of getting COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some board members said they’ve had a lot of pressure to reopen but worry that reopening will cause too much stress on teachers and cleaning staff.
Board member Joyce Morley said possible changes in remote and in-person learning will be hard on students as well because of the schedule changes.