DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — After starting the school year off virtually, DeKalb County schools decided to further delay the return to in-person instruction Tuesday. The move comes as the county and Georgia experience a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The school district was originally due to return to the classroom in phases starting January 19. However, in a statement, a DeKalb County School District representative said the delay would give time for the district to focus on "mitigation strategies and school readiness."
Several teachers protested the district's plan to return to in-person learning, saying the holiday spike would not make it safe inside the classroom.
On the other hand, frustrated parents commented at a school board meeting Monday, requesting that the school district give parents the option of virtual learning versus face-to-face instruction. Some parents believe the district took away their choice to opt into in-person learning.
"The fact that the district is creating options rather than obligations for return to face-to-face learning frequently is being overlooked, misunderstood, or outright ignored in these public discussions," one parent said during Monday's school board meeting.
“I am asking for a choice," another parent said. "Do not force anyone to be face-to-face or to remain virtual. Let them choose what is best for their family. It’s their civil right, and you guys gratefully have the ability to make sure none of those rights are violated.”
Dr. Sally Goza, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the goal for the group is to get back to in-person learning. She said face-to-face instruction plays a critical part in boosting academic performance, building social skills, providing stability and offering dependability in diet and exercise.
Goza would not recommend whether a school district should hold in-person learning. However, she said it depended on community spread.
"The incidents in schools mirrors the community spread, but it doesn't aggravate or lead the community spread," Goza said. "It mirrors what's happening in the community, and that's what is so important. We have to look at, how do we get the community spread down?"
State Rep. Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain) sent a memo to the DeKalb County School Board last week, calling for schools to stay closed to in-person instruction because of spiking coronavirus numbers and the new variant being reported in Georgia.
The pandemic and recent surge in COVID-19 cases has forced other Metro Atlanta school districts, including Cherokee County and Fulton County, to go virtual.
"Right now, parents really need support. So, this is an opportunity for school districts and teachers to develop constructive collaboration and partnership with parents and create this ecological system to support children's schools and development," Chenyi Zhang, an early childhood education professor at Georgia State University said.
The DeKalb County School District plans to provide parents with a two-week notification before the targeted date to return to in-person learning. However, school district officials have not yet set that date.