The Week with Dr. Lisa Herring Week of October 12

Good day, Atlanta Public Schools!

I’m Dr. Lisa Herring, Superintendent. Welcome back to “The Week,” where we provide you with a video summary of the news and information you need most from Atlanta Public Schools.

This week, I had to make the decision for Atlanta Public Schools to delay its return to face-to-face instruction due to an unfavorable trend in COVID-19 cases in our community and in consultation with public health officials and healthcare experts in addition to a review of the feedback we received from our stakeholders, families, and staff. That means we will postpone all reopening plans for in-person learning until January 2021. 

We will continue with the current virtual model until at least that time. But our commitment to giving EVERY student a quality education remains strong.

The decision to further delay the in-person opening of our schools was difficult. But after consulting with our teachers, staff, students, families, and public health officials, it was clearly the right approach at this time.

As I have shared in numerous virtual town halls, fireside chats, memorandums, weekly videos, and news reports, all decisions regarding our phased approach for a return to face-to-face teaching and learning remain rooted in the current COVID-19 health data for our community and other factors we deemed important. To be more specific, I told you that we would NOT return if we remained in substantial spread.

The Georgia Department of Public Health defines low to moderate spread of COVID-19 as fewer than 100 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 Fulton County residents over a 14-day period. Presently, that average has been exceeding 130 new cases per 100,000 county residents, leaving us in substantial spread.

We know there are differing opinions across families and communities regarding this decision. I want you to know that we have considered many different voices throughout this process. But at this juncture, I want to encourage unity across our school community as we work collaboratively through this season of pandemic and continue to put our students and staff first.

Our commitment to giving each one of our students a great education has not changed, and I know you stand with us in keeping that commitment. But we recognize that it will be harder to ensure we live up to this goal as we continue remote learning, and we will need your support and engagement now more than ever.

APS is grateful for our passionate and dedicated teachers who have worked diligently since schools moved to a virtual model in the spring to meet the needs of every one of our students. I have been in your classrooms through Zoom, and I have talked with you. I have been encouraged by the fact that our students are engaged and have been logging on at an average rate of 95% each week.

We have also listened to our families. As you know, We sent the Intent to Return Declaration Form to 38,397 students, which actually represents the total PreK-12 enrollment of all traditional APS schools. Please note that this figure does not include charter and partner students, which represents an additional 10,000+ students. Families of students at charter and partner schools did not participate in the intent to return process. I want to extend my appreciation to the more than 22,000 families (or 58% of you) who submitted their forms by the deadline. Of those submitting the forms, 10,460 expressed their intent for their children to return to school if we were to resume in-person instruction. I should note that for the 16,200 families that did not return the forms, their forms defaulted to site-based virtual instruction.

Going forward, we will proceed with our practice of monthly health data checkpoints and present the next update at the November 2 Board meeting.  We also continue to explore ways to support our most vulnerable learners, particularly our low-incidence special needs population and our youngest students, including their potential return to some in-person services prior to January 2021.

We stand committed to supporting the academic, social, and emotional needs of every single student in APS, even as we continue in this virtual space. There’s no question that this pandemic has affected our students and so many of us in different ways.

Our most vulnerable students across all categories have been hit hardest, which is why we have implemented more deliberate outreach efforts, including but not limited to:

  • Daily phone calls directly to parents and guardians of students when they are not logged on or do not remain online throughout the school day
  • At-home visits when students have not logged-in over a three-to-four day period of time or if staff is unable to contact parents of students who are consistently not remaining logged-in
  • Consistent monitoring of attendance and login rates every week
  • Schools also send home “no contact letters,” similar to the attendance letters they would send home in a traditional instructional setting, and
  • Support staff assists our teachers and administrators with these issues, and social workers are brought in as needed to engage with students who consistently remain offline during the school day.

In addition, we have followed through on the commitments we made this spring to distribute internet-connected devices to families across the district and partner with organizations that offer support for students who need them most.

Listen, I encourage you to stay connected and to stay informed. My blog and our Return+Learn site provides even more information, including details about our food program, athletics, and other updates.

The uncertainties created by this pandemic require us as a school district and as a school community to be nimble and to prepare for different scenarios, including returning to school for in-person learning or extending virtual instruction further if necessary. This is the nature of the world in which we now all live.

This is our reality. We will keep our students and our families and our staff and their well-being in mind first.

I want to thank you — our APS parents and our community — for your engagement, resilience, and patience. Like many of you, I look forward to the day when we can welcome all of our students back into our buildings safely, embrace them, and teach them face to face. That day is coming. We are all in this together and I assure you that we will get through this season together.

We have to.

That’s “The Week” for this week! Thanks for watching and for remaining engaged in the education of our children. I want to wish you well, I want you to be well, and I invite you to stay connected.

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