APS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring discusses school capacity for in-person learning at the Dec. 3 virtual town hall.

With more than 2,000 people watching in a Dec. 3 virtual town hall meeting, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring reflected on her own diagnosis with COVID-19 and how she’s using that experience as a lens when it comes to deciding whether to resume in-person learning in late January.

“Being a COVID survivor will be part of the filter and lens I look through in determining our return to in-person learning,” Herring said, noting that her daughter also tested positive. “Having COVID slowed me down and made me think about my health, the health of my family, and those APS serves.”

Herring said she was concerned about education loss for students as the pandemic wears on, and would like to see students back in the classroom. However, she said APS had a responsibility to monitor the COVID-19 surge and make a decision on reopening using that data and the recommendations of health and safety officials.

The proposed classroom return schedule looks like this:

    • Jan. 25: Pre-K, grades 1 and 2, and special education students across all grade levels
    • Feb. 1: Grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10
    • Feb. 4: Grades 7,  8, 11, and 12

All teachers, except those who have special arrangements with APS, will be expected back in the classroom with most dealing with simultaneous learning – teaching kids in the classroom and virtually at the same time. Teachers will report Jan. 19 and will be teaching virtually from their classrooms until in-person learning resumes.

Parents will still have the option to choose in-person, virtual with their child’s school, or the virtual academy model for those taking part in year-long homeschooling. These were the same options given when APS aborted an attempt to return to in-person learning in October.

As parents begin to fill out an “intent to return” declaration, Herring said that schools that reach 60 percent capacity for in-person learning may have to use a hybrid model of in-person  and virtual to maintain social distancing and safety protocols.

Even if face-to-face learning resumes, students will still have Wednesdays off as “independent learning days” and to allow for deep cleaning at facilities, meal-delivery, and COVID-19 testing.

Students who come back to the classroom will be required to wear masks and follow other safety and sanitation protocols. There will be temperature checks and plans are in place to mitigate a possible outbreak.

Although they’ll be back in the classroom, students will use their laptops or handheld devices at their desks to help connect them with students who are still learning virtually and with the teacher who is pulling double-duty.

The leading factor on whether students will return to the classroom is the number of  COVID-19 cases and community spread transmission. The White House Coronavirus Task Force placed Georgia back in the “red zone”  last month as cases increased, and officials are worried that holiday gatherings could bring a surge even as vaccinations begin for some later this month.

Herring also outlined the Spring and Summer Programming for Academic Recovery and Intervention Plan, which will focus not only on education, but the mental and physical health of students as well.

Next June, there will be a focus on literacy and mathematics for students who are behind due to virtual learning.

A parent group calling itself Committee for APS Progress plans to hold a rally on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 1 p.m. in Piedmont Park demanding that APS resume in-person learning in January.

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.