Decatur, GA — About 50 parents and teachers gathered outside the City Schools of Decatur’s central offices on Sept. 22 to protest the announcement that in-person schooling would resume in phases beginning October 12.
Parents and teachers expressed concerns over the safety of returning to in-person schooling while COVID-19 is still spreading substantially in DeKalb County.
Dr. Melissa Black, a family physician and geriatrician, has two children in City Schools of Decatur schools.
“I love this school district. It has some of the most amazing teachers in this state,” she said. “They’ve been doing an incredible job of holding students together through a hard learning environment.”
But she wants teachers’ voices to be heard, and at this time, teachers do not feel safe returning to the classroom.
Julianna Viezure, who has children in the school district, said she was “very surprised and disappointed,” especially after looking at the results of the survey conducted by the district about the possibility of reopening schools.
She doesn’t feel that they gave enough time for parents and teachers to respond to the survey. She says that teachers trying to conduct classes in-person and virtually simultaneously will be “a big mess.”
“It’s not fair to the teachers or the students,” said Viezure.
Many people interviewed for this story did not want to be identified.
A teacher in the school district who preferred to remain anonymous said that the district should have had a plan for how to safely return before they announced dates to return. She said that elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools all have different safety needs, and that instructional time will be wasted on logistics like safety procedures.
Without knowing her class size, she said, she isn’t even sure the desks can be six feet apart.
“We want to go back, just not when the community spread is 10.4%,” she said, referring to the current percent positive of COVID tests in the state of Georgia.
A former Decatur teacher and parent of a 10th grader who also didn’t want to be identified says she preferred the four-quadrant proposal the school board used in their planning earlier this year because it relied on the decrease of community spread. “Teachers and staff are being put in a situation where they feel like their health is in danger. … Nothing is worse than people coming to school, getting sick, and dying.”
Isabel, a recent high school graduate and daughter of a Decatur teacher said, “The school board hasn’t cared about teachers or students for a long time, they care more about appeasing rich residents.”
A car drove around the block displaying signs reading “There is no ‘back to normal,’” “Your kids won’t like in-person school either,” and “Super teachers not super spreaders.”
Many of the teachers interviewed at the rally said they missed their students and of course wanted to return to the classroom — just not until it’s truly safe.
A representative of the Teachers’ Advisory Council announced that they plan to meet on Zoom and develop a statement on their concerns to deliver to Superintendent David Dude.
Following the protest, Dude addressed employees of the City Schools of Decatur in a letter:
Good evening,It is clear many of our colleagues and community members have strong feelings about our plans to transition staff and students back to school. Many of us are understandably concerned about returning to school: you might be afraid, and I know I am. These are frightening times, and we have all been asked to handle more than what is normally reasonable. No one should be faulted for their feelings – while there is fear, for some there is also relief and even excitement about the prospect of this transition.
I have heard many thanks and many concerns from employees and other stakeholders about our plans to bring teachers and students back to our buildings. One thing almost everyone has expressed is that decisions should be made on the facts–not feelings, not what’s popular, but what is supported by data. I couldn’t agree more. Our latest decision is based on the facts, and facts will continue to lead the way. As we stated with our decision: if the data change we will adjust our plans accordingly, as we have all along.
A month ago, cases in DeKalb County were three times what they are now, and they have been dropping consistently over that time period. The plan we released focuses on opening gradually, starting with students who can most benefit from in-person learning. Families that need additional support through learning pods, students in our adapted curriculum special education program, and daycare students will begin returning to school in three weeks. The other 98% of our students do not begin returning until November, and about half of those students (based on survey results) are likely to choose to remain in virtual learning.
September 15, the CDC issued new guidance on indicators and thresholds schools could use in their decision making. This guidance forms the basis of a data dashboard we have created to help teachers and other stakeholders understand the data we are looking at and the implications of those data. The dashboard can be viewed at http://bit.ly/CSD-COVID-Data. As can be seen in the dashboard, we are currently in the low-risk category. That could change, however, so the data will continue to guide our plans as they have throughout this time.
Speaking of data, I’d like to address the recent survey results. Many teachers have shared their surprise that we would consider returning in person when 85% of teachers expressed concern about that. Of those who expressed concern, 94 shared that they are in a high-risk category themselves, 136 shared that they reside with someone in a high-risk category, and 106 didn’t think the planned protocols were sufficient. Of those who chose to provide additional details, the most likely concerns were that the decision was not made based on data, that they would be unable to visit their parents or grandparents, that they had family members at high risk, and that enforcing mandatory mask wearing would be challenging. That feedback is very valuable to us as we determine our plans for the future. It is also important to recognize that there is other feedback in that survey as well, like that fewer than ¼ of parents and students (and only ⅓ of teachers) feel that virtual learning is as valuable as in-person learning.
I’ve also heard a lot of concerns about “concurrent teaching” (some students online, some in person). I fully understand why this would be concerning from many different perspectives. What I know, though, is that there are teachers successfully teaching concurrently. I’ve spoken with them myself. Of course we can find examples where it is not going well, but since when do we focus on the poor exemplars? We need to focus on the successful approaches that make concurrent teaching work. I also recognize concurrent teaching is not a great solution in some situations, which is why we need to continue seeking additional approaches. It is critical that we continue working on what a blend of in-person and virtual learning will look like in our school district.
I understand the fear many of you feel. I understand the desire to know exactly what will happen three weeks from now and three weeks after that. Dozens of your colleagues are working diligently on bringing these specifics to you as soon as possible. Additionally, we will continue discussing your concerns and their root causes so we can address everything as effectively as we possibly can. I will reach out to our Teacher Advisory Council to see if they would be willing to help facilitate a town hall with me in the next week. Please look for details to come.
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