Uncertainty and confusion reigned during a marathon Oct. 5 meeting of the Atlanta Board of Education as a change in the reopening plan for Atlanta Public Schools caught many parents by surprise.

Some parents believed that the board would be voting on reopening dates and a plan during the meeting, but no vote was required as the reopening timeline is the purview of Superintendent Lisa Herring and her administration.

APS officials released a new reopening plan late on Oct. 2, but it was obvious those listening in on the virtual meeting had not had time to wade through what was originally a 96-page document. In the new plan, if COVID-19 numbers continue to trend down, students in pre-K through fifth grade and students with disabilities could return to classrooms for in-person learning on Oct. 26. Students in other grades would return in phases through Nov. 16.

In the original plan, reopening was only for pre-K through second grade and students with disabilities. Parents were already filling out an “Intent to Return Declaration” form for their students, which was originally due Oct. 10, but the deadline was moved to Oct. 12 after additional grade levels were added to the reopening plan.

APS also removed a cap on the number of students allowed to return to in-person education, causing parents to question how social distancing would be maintained.

Parents and guardians can still choose to keep their students at home for virtual education in various configurations if they aren’t comfortable with in-person learning.

While some students might be back in the classroom on Oct. 26, it would not be a typical school day. There will be no school on Wednesdays for in-person or virtual learning to give time for overworked teachers to prepare and for brick-and-mortar buildings to receive deep cleanings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All students and teachers would be required to wear masks, and there would be social distancing in classrooms, temperature checks and hand-sanitizing stations.

Parents and educators are also concerned about overworked teachers, some of who would be leading face-to-face and virtual classes simultaneously.

Board Chairman Jason Esteves said he understood that many questions still remained, but answers hinged on parents returning the “Intent To Return Declaration” and the number of COVID cases remaining low.

Some parents accused APS to caving in to a group of parents who have been vocal about wanting classes to resume full-time and for all grades. A Faceboook group calling itself Let Atlanta Parents Choose bought high-profile billboards in the city with the message “All Kids All Day.”

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.