Parents of Atlanta Public Schools students will have to decide by Oct. 10 if they plan to send their kids back to the classroom or continue with virtual learning for the remainder of the semester.

Atlanta School Board Chairman Jason Esteves said during a virtual meeting of the North Atlanta Parents for Public Schools group on Sept. 30 that parents and guardians would have to make a choice and stick with it through December.

“For scheduling purposes, we need a commitment from parents on whether their children will have in-person or virtual learning,” Esteves said.

An “Intent to Return Declaration” form is available on the APS website and may be accessed via this link: Parents and caregivers will need their student’s “Student Number” and “APS Username” in order to complete the survey.

While the initial plan is for pre-kindergarten through 2nd grade students and special education students to return to in-person learning on Oct. 26, parents and guardians are being asked to complete the form even if their students are not part of this initial phase. That includes the rest of elementary, middle, and high school grades. If the declaration is not returned by Oct. 10, students will remain in their current virtual instructional learning model.

Superintendent Lisa Herring will present a proposal for APS’s reopening plan on Monday, Oct. 5, at the monthly meeting of the Atlanta Board of Education. Esteves encouraged parents to join the virtual school board meeting to hear all the details about the phased return to in-person learning. Esteves said there would be a timeline for when students in other grades will have the option to return to class.

While some students might be back in the classroom on Oct. 26, it will not be a typical school day. There will be no school on Wednesdays for in-person or virtual learning to give times for overworked teachers to prepare and for brick-and-mortar buildings to receive deep cleanings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

APS is using community spread of COVID-19 as a main indicator of whether to restart in-person learning. A spike in cases could scupper APS’s plan for face-to-face learning.

“The plan is contingent on being community spread being below 100 cases per 100,000 residents,” Esteves said. “If it goes up before the plan is implemented then we will remain virtual.”

Board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown said each student returning to classrooms would receive two cloth face masks prior to Oct. 26. Students and staff will be required to wear masks that cover the nose and mouth throughout the school day. There will also be daily temperature screenings, social distancing in classrooms with students three to six feet apart, and hand sanitizing stations installed in classrooms and common areas.

Students showing symptoms at school will be sent to a monitored isolation area to await pickup by a parent or guardian. If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 at a school, protocols will be in place for required quarantine and buildings may have to close again.

Esteves said APS had already lost 10 instructional days and there might be some effort in 2021 to somehow make up those days, but he said it would not cut into spring break.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.