Editor's note: The following letter is in response to Atlanta Public Schools' decision to start the 2020-21 academic year Aug. 24, two weeks later than originally planned, and with nine weeks of online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

DEAR EDITOR:

As an Atlanta Public Schools (APS) parent, I implore the superintendent and the board of education to put Atlanta children first and release revised plans allowing parents to choose a face-to-face option for their children.

As data points us to an improving environment with a high likelihood of success, we have yet to see a detailed plan for a return to the classroom. Many larger and surrounding school districts with COVID-19 statistics much worse than Fulton County or the city of Atlanta (e.g. Miami-Dade County) are pivoting toward plans to put kids back in the classroom yet APS seems unwilling to provide us with their plan.

Data released by the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics points to the safety of reopening schools. We are quickly approaching the APS metrics that allow us to enter the next phase – yet no detailed plan has been released. We should reach the APS-declared hurdle of below 100 per 100,000 cases for the last two weeks in short order based on the trend line. Given the situation’s fluidity and the APS-stated goal of getting children back in the classroom, parents would like to see some timeline adjustment and release of a plan.

APS is willing to sponsor, promote and sell tickets to athletics events such as the Great Atlanta Bash yet not prioritizing getting children back in the classroom. Is the job of the school system not, first and foremost, to educate children? I have seen first-hand the detrimental effect that distance learning has had on my first-grader and his social and emotional development. Spending hours behind a screen each day is not developmentally appropriate for a child this age nor warranted by CDC data.

APS is not willing to allow smaller charter schools without bus issues to present their own reopening plans for review. APS cannot remain in a virtual model forever, and test cases with the smaller charter schools would be helpful for long-term planning for the district. Yet, based on all of the presentations from APS, blanket decisions are being made for all schools in the district. Data-driven decisions are most effectively made in a “test and learn” environment and these smaller charter schools appear to be excellent options to test “return to the classroom” plans on a smaller scale before a district-wide implementation.

APS is only focused on COVID-19 related risks and not other risks to children due to a lack of classroom time. For many, school means a hot meal and a refuge from abusive situations at home. The narrative from APS seems to be to prioritize all COVID-19 related risks over all others including social and emotional risks.

This situation is far from ideal for everyone, and the board and superintendent should engage in a constructive dialogue with parents. By sticking to a rigid, arbitrary timeline and refusing to view this situation through a broad lens, the detrimental impact on our district’s children will be long-lasting and, sadly, in some cases insurmountable. We owe more to the next generation.

Amy Lambert

Buckhead resident and APS parent of three children

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