DUNWOODY, Ga. — Several parent groups are fuming after the DeKalb County School System announced Jan. 11 it would again postpone a return to face-to-face learning in classrooms.
During its regular board meeting held online, School Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris, announced that the positivity percentage of almost 15 percent on Jan. 8 dictated the decision to postpone a staggered return to the classroom until the week of Feb. 2. Teachers and administrators would report to classrooms at that time, then a gradual grade-by-grade return will occur in three incremental steps.
“We will continue to consult with the CDC as to when it is safe to return,” Watson-Harris said.
Several parent groups advocating face-to-face learning said they were disappointed in the decision.
“DeKalb County’s decision to delay face-to-face learning is a continuation of their disgraceful haphazard approach of 2020, which sublimated the education of children in favor of expediency and fear,” a group of parents said in a statement after the decision was announced. “Superintendent Watson-Harris and the Board remain dedicated to violating the right of the children of this county to receive an adequate public education.”
Board members also expressed their displeasure with the change of plan.
“My head is spinning off,” Board Member Joyce Morley said. “We’ve got to stop taking parents, students and teachers on a psychological roller coaster. You knew this was going to happen and that the numbers were too high on Dec. 14.
“It’s an insult and a disgrace,” she continued. “There should have been a vote on this by seven members of the board, and we should have been consulted before this.”
Board Member Marshall Orson said, however, that he understood both sides of the issue.
“There’s legitimate concerns on both sides,” Orson said. “I appreciate the hard work and the difficult choices that have been made. Really, we won’t know that we are on the other side until we are way past it.”
Watson-Harris said that approximately 4,000 educators had applied for hardship waivers, citing childcare issues, health concerns and family obligations. She said all of the waivers were granted, but that they expire Feb. 2.
Several board members cited concerns after hearing about the recent deaths of educators in other counties. Maude Jones, a special education paraprofessional at Rock Spring Elementary, died of complications due to COVID-19, days after she filed her retirement papers after more than a decade with the system. Another educator, Pat Key, an elementary school teacher in Cobb County, died Christmas morning after battling the disease for a month.
Other school systems that had gone back to face-to-face learning in earlier months have pressed the pause button as the number of confirmed cases rise to all-time highs. Fulton and Henry County schools are delaying students’ return to the middle of January.