Despite a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospital bed shortages, controversy over the vaccine rollout, and concerns from parents and teachers, Atlanta Public Schools plans to restart in-person education on Jan. 25.

Around 13,000 of the district’s 52,000 students are expected to return to schoolhouses at the end of the month, according to school officials. It will be the first time students have been in classrooms since last March.

Pre-K, grades 1 and 2, and special education students across all grade levels will back at their desks on Jan. 25. Grades 3 through 12 will have a staggered return to the classroom from Feb. 1 to 4.

Teachers, many who have expressed concern about their safety, 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.

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

Atlanta School Board Chairman Jason Esteves said during a Jan. 11 meeting that another postponement of in-person learning could harm vulnerable students. “There are students who have to be in our school buildings to learn,” he said.

Superintendent Lisa Herring, who had COVID-19 last fall, said her decision to reopen schools was made with “thoughtfulness and carefulness” and that safety protocols would be in place.

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

We Demand Safety APS, a group of concerned parents, teachers, and staff, issued a statement on Jan. 12 calling on the district to wait to reopen schools until teachers could be vaccinated. However, teachers are in the Phase 1B rollout of the vaccine, which isn’t expected to begin until spring.

APS teachers have expressed concerns for their safety and that of the children they teach.

Joseph Doughtery, a sixth grade social studies teacher at David T. Howard Middle School, questioned the timing of the return when Intown spoke with him last month.

“I think we should remain virtual, because the reason we are virtual in the first place is for the safety and health of students, teachers and staff, and that hasn’t changed. The pandemic is at its worst,” Dougherty said. “The only argument to be made is there is a certain level of education the students are losing, and the farther in the school year you go, the more detrimental it can be, but I don’t think that outweighs the health and safety of everyone involved at all.”

Read more about teacher concerns at this link.

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.