The Week with Dr. Lisa Herring – Week of January 18 – Slowing Pace of Return to In-Person Learning for Students in Grades 3-12

It’s important for me today to speak candidly with you about our plan to provide the option for in-person learning for our students beginning this month.

Implementing a Tiered Approach

Our PreK-2 and Special Education students will still return as scheduled on Monday, January 25. However, I have decided to slow the pace of return to in-person learning for students in Grades 3 through 12 as follows:

  • Grades 3 through 5 will now return on Monday, February 8
  • Grades 6 through 12 will return on Tuesday, February 16.

This tiered approach will enable us to gradually return students to in-person learning as we intensify and add to our current mitigation strategies in anticipation of COVID-19 surveillance testing to be provided in our schools.

I want our teachers, staff, students, parents, and others to know that I do hear you. I understand the emotion and concern that some of you have expressed. That has not fallen on deaf ears.

I know that many of you participated in the We Demand APS survey to further express your concerns about our plan to begin the option for face-to-face learning. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the concerted effort and will work with the leaders of that group to secure your feedback.

There is no question that we are closely monitoring COVID-19 daily. There is not a day that I wake up that those numbers aren’t on my mind. I am experiencing it along with you and I have lived it like some of you have.

This decision to return to in-person learning is not an easy one. And in my conversations with superintendents all around the country, there is no clear-cut answer that suits every school district. This has been frustrating, challenging, and yet it is our reality.

Our teachers and school-based staff returned to our schools this week, and we fully prepared for their return by putting the health and mitigation strategies in place as recommended by health officials.

To be clear: We have resourced our schools well and provided them with the materials and equipment they need to stay safe while providing in-person instruction for our students.

In fact, if you are a teacher and you do not feel you have the resources you need, then we need to hear from you. Please communicate your concerns to your principals who will then make your needs known to the administration.

In preparation for our teachers and students returning to our buildings, we adopted a comprehensive COVID-19 testing strategy in collaboration with public health officials, community partners, universities, and healthcare organizations.

We have provided locations where our students, teachers, and staff can go right now to get tested, whether they have symptoms identified through our screening protocols, have come in contact with someone with COVID-19 at school or in the workplace, or have been exposed in an outbreak setting.

Introducing COVID-19 Surveillance Testing

We are right now preparing to add COVID-19 surveillance testing of employees in all of our schools and buildings. This weekly testing will allow us to be proactive and identify the presence of the COVID-19 virus, even in individuals who may be asymptomatic.

In addition, you can view reports on the number of positive COVID-19 cases and exposures in our schools and buildings on our COVID-19 dashboard online.

I am working diligently on accelerating the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for all APS employees. Right now, our employees are categorized in Phase 1B, and we’re working with our partner at the Fulton County Board of Health to speed up that process.  

There is still much work to do and we are doing everything we can to ensure we provide a safe environment for in-person teaching and learning in our schools.

This pandemic has changed our lives in so many ways, and we’re still searching for a new normal. I believe wholeheartedly that we will get through this, but it’s going to take our collective will to do it.

As your superintendent, I can tell you that I’m committed. I appreciate your honesty, your engagement, and your flexibility. We’ve all had to pivot around the impacts of COVID-19, and we continue to make deliberative decisions in the best interest of our APS community.

Please be well.

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