070820_MNS_full_Herring_sworn_in Lisa Herring and others

Lisa Herring, right, is sworn in by Fulton County State Court Judge Patsy Porter, left, as Herring’s mother and daughter, front center, look on.

As Atlanta Public Schools moves closer to bringing students back to face-to-face classes in a phased approach due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the debate over how quickly the district goes back to in-person classes continues.

Also, some teachers and parents have criticized the plan for recent changes that favor one group or another.

“We know you want to know what we’re doing moving forward. That remains our committed goal,” Superintendent Lisa Herring said of the district’s reopening strategy. “I want to acknowledge the voices and opinions of our (community). Over the last few weeks, multiple voices have surfaced and (spoken up). We hear you. We hear you if you’re on the side of moving too slow (to return to in-person instruction) and we hear you if you’re on the side of moving too fast.

“One truth is we won’t please everyone, but we’ll work on behalf of all children and all employees in mind. … There is no intent to exclude any group in this process. The truth of this season is there is no perfect plan. … We recognize there are health shifts and fears. … I want to thank the community for the resiliency they’ve faced in the first phase we’ve gone through.”

Herring spoke at the Atlanta Board of Education’s Oct. 5 meeting at the district’s office downtown, where she provided more details on the district’s plan to return students to in-person classes in a phased approach. She had given some information on the plan at a Sept. 24 virtual town hall meeting, and more information on the strategy was posted to the district’s website Oct. 2.

In July Herring announced the district would start school Aug. 24 instead of Aug. 10 and would begin the 2020-21 academic year with nine weeks of online classes as a way to deal with the pandemic. Atlanta, like other districts nationwide, held classes online in mid-March through May because of the outbreak.

According to the district’s website, the nine weeks of online-only instruction will end Oct. 26, when Phase 2 begins and pre-kindergarten and special-needs students will go back to school four days a week with one day of virtual learning. Phase 3, which starts Nov. 16 (though it originally was to start Nov. 2), will include pre-K through fifth-graders plus sixth- through 12th-grade and special-needs students taking in-person classes four days a week with one day of online learning.

Phase 4, which is expected to begin Jan. 19 (though it originally was to commence Nov. 16), will include all students going back to on-campus instruction unless they decide to opt to continue virtual classes. In all phases, students can take online classes. They have the option to have online instruction either with their own school or through Atlanta Virtual Academy.

The public health target data is more than 100 COVID-19 cases in Fulton County per 14-day average for Phase 1, with that number decreasing to six to 100 cases in Phases 2 and 3 and to 1 to 5 in Phase 4.

Students will be required to wear masks both on the bus and on campus, and all buses will be cleaned twice a day. Parents who can transport their children to school should do so.

During the meeting, which was live-streamed on Facebook, teachers and others posted comments criticizing the plan, saying the district changed course on its strategy for reopening and is not listening to teachers’ concerns.

“#baitandswitch,” one said.

“What about social distancing on school buses, in the cafeteria, going to special area classes, in the bathrooms, hallways?” another added.

Another said, “In ‘green’ buildings windows do not open. We have NO access to fresh air.”

A Facebook group called Let Atlanta Parents Choose posted a petition to the website change.org asking the district give parents the option to allow their children to take classes on campus during the first phase of its reopening plan has been signed by 2,901 individuals as of Oct. 6, with a goal of having 5,000 signatures. The group even paid to advertise on an electronic billboard in Midtown prior to the meeting.

Those who posted comments while signing the petition said students desperately need to go back to in-person instruction.

“I’m signing because I am a second-grade teacher and I am witnessing the students’ daily frustration, desire to be with friends and socialize and the negative academic impact that virtual learning is having on families,” one said.

Another signer added, “Our kids are falling behind academically. And the social and emotional impact this is having on them is horrifying.”

The district is asking parents to fill out the Intent to Return Declaration form by Oct. 12 to let it know whether they plan to send their children back to school starting with Phase 2 or to continue to take classes online. For more information, visit https://dig.apsgraphs.com/ITR/ or www.atlantapublicschools.us.

Parents and caregivers will need their student’s Student Number and APS Username to complete the survey. District leaders ask that all parents complete the form, even if their students are not part of this initial phase to return to in-person learning.

Students of parents and/or caregivers who do not complete the survey by Oct. 12 will remain in their current virtual instructional learning model.

Responses may be changed until the survey period closes on Oct. 12.

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