As Atlanta Public Schools’ students return to in-person classes, they are doing so up to two weeks later than planned in some grades, and all pupils will be tested for COVID-19 in a unique way.
After spending the entire first semester with online instruction, the district continued with virtual classes during the first week of the second semester, which started Jan. 19, before resuming in-person instruction in phases starting Jan. 25.
Under the original plan, special-needs and pre-kindergarteners through second-graders would return to school Jan. 25, and students in grades 3-5, 6, 9 and 10 would return to campus Feb. 1. Students in grades 7, 8, 11 and 12 would go back to in-person classes Feb. 4.
But at a Jan. 25 news conference at M.A. Jones Elementary School in southwest Atlanta, Superintendent Lisa Herring announced students in grades 3-5 will return to campus Feb. 8, and students in grades 6-12 will not go back until Feb. 16. All students will still have the option to take classes online if they choose.
“We are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe. And, I want our students, teachers, staff and the APS community to know that I’m listening. I hear your concerns. They haven’t fallen on deaf ears,” Herring said in a news release, referring to the debate over whether classes should be in person or online. “But more importantly, I’m acting on your concerns and I continue to evolve our Return+Learn plan with your feedback in mind.”
Also, according to the release, the Atlanta district is the first preK-12 school district in Georgia to offer COVID-19 surveillance testing in schools and buildings, which has been recognized as one of the surest ways to create a safe environment.
The weekly testing initiative will allow the district to be proactive and identify the presence of the virus, even in individuals who may be asymptomatic. The district is collaborating with Decatur-based Viral Solutions LLC to provide screening services, with the goal of starting to offer testing at several schools as early as Jan. 29 and no later than early the following week.
The district will offer this test to students and employees, and will be able to get those results within 24 hours. In addition to surveillance testing, the district is already requiring students and staff members to wear masks and will be socially distanced. Participation in surveillance testing is not mandated for students, but it will be strongly encouraged.