NORTH FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Fulton Schools officials are defending the cleaning process in schools despite reports from teachers who have expressed their concerns publicly and privately.
A group of teachers at Riverwood Charter School in Sandy Springs staged a walkout last month to call attention to the issue. Teachers at other schools have commented privately they don’t think adequate safeguards are in place to guarantee safety.
One elementary school teacher notified the Herald that some teachers, fearful of going public, have taken to private online platforms where clean schools and teaching challenges have become a focal point for discussion. She said she has alerted officials about issues in her own classroom but has received no action.
Schools Superintendent James Looney has scolded teachers for demonstrating through walkouts, saying it distracts from the education process everyone is working hard to implement.
The district defends its cleaning protocols.
“The two-step process of areas being cleaned frequently throughout the day and disinfected after students leave will greatly assist us in our continued efforts to provide our students and staff with a clean, safe and healthy environment,” said Brian Noyes, chief communications officer for the Fulton School System.
Noyes said he was not aware of any cleaning issues directly reported by staff in area schools.
The district is gradually returning more students to classrooms which requires teachers “simultaneous teach” both virtual and in-person students in their classrooms.
Although teachers have been in schools since August, students began returning in small numbers in September. Full face-to-face instruction is set to begin Oct. 14.
From Sept. 14 -27 when students began returning to schools in greater numbers, the district reported 36 positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff. Exposure to positive individuals mandated 14-day quarantines for an additional 83 students and staff.
In the first month of school, 64 of the district’s 6,900 teachers either resigned or retired. That is significantly higher than the 39 separations that occurred in the first month last school year.
Chief Talent Officer Ron Wade said this year’s losses did not cause a “crisis” because Fulton Schools also had a significant drop in student enrollment from projected numbers. About 61 positions remain vacant, primarily in special education which is historically harder to staff.
To alleviate staff and parents’ concerns, the district developed a safety plan with the goal of getting teachers and kids back into schools as safely as possible.
Noyes said the district followed CDC guidelines as those plans were developed. The plan includes frequent cleaning and daily disinfection of “high touch” surfaces using products approved safe for people and the environment.
He noted teachers and staff play a key role in keeping their spaces clean and are provided products to help them.
“Custodians will disinfect many common areas during the day, but most disinfection will be done at night,” Noyes said. “Teachers and staff are provided with a general cleaner and microfiber cloths to clean with frequently throughout the day.”
One teacher confirmed she had been given a bottle of spray cleaner and cloths, but her room has not been swept since school started. Some teachers, she noted, have started bringing their own products from home, primarily cleaning wipes, to fill the gaps.
Noyes maintains the schools are cleaner than they’ve ever been with the combination of cleaning and disinfection.
“Studies show that microfiber cloths can remove up to 98 percent of bacteria and 93 percent of viruses from surfaces with just water alone,” Noyes said. “So, with the combination of using a peroxide-based cleaner and microfiber cloths, we are doing more to remove germs, dirt and impurities than we have in the past.”