DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The DeKalb County School District had originally planned to resume in-person learning in phases beginning on January 19, but that has since been delayed due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia.
Now, Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris tells 11Alive, the potential new date to return to face-to-face learning is February 3 for teachers, with students returning to classrooms two weeks later.
She does make it clear, however, that the plans could easily be changed as the district continues to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and monitors COVID-19 cases throughout the county.
"Our intention is not to keep our children out of the building any longer than they have to," said Watson-Harris.
The decision to push the timeline further was met with mixed reactions from DeKalb parents whose children have been learning virtually since mid-March 2020.
But Watson-Harris, who began as superintendent in the midst of the pandemic, says it is necessary to continue remote learning for now, as Georgia continues seeing record numbers in COVID-19 infections.
According to the Department of Public Health and the DeKalb County Board of Health, the county accounted for more than 6% of COVID-19 cases in Georgia to date, with a daily average of more than 530 cases a day.
"We respect all of the opinions," she said. "Something that I love about DeKalb is our beautiful diversity. With that, comes diversity of thought."
The district, with 94,000 students, sent out a survey to families earlier in the school year, which Watson-Harris said revealed that 40% of them would choose to return to in-person learning.
When making the decision to push back the timeline, she says the district checked back in with parents, and that statistic now sits closer to 30%.
"The number of families that would choose to return to face-to-face option are the minority but still very important and we want to continue to provide that option," she said. "We have made announcements to families that they'll have a chance to change their minds. After the doors are open, they may decide that they'd like a face-to-face option for their children and we will most certainly work with every family."
Right now, the district is in conversations with the DeKalb County Health Department so that they're able to train school nurses to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.
The superintendent says that when the time comes, receiving the vaccine will be optional for teachers in the district.