Several speak in favor of in-person learning following DCSD’s delay

Despite DeKalb County School District’s change of plans to delay a transition to in-person instruction, a majority of community members who spoke during a community input session Oct. 19 were in favor of returning to in-person learning.

Katie Buck, a DeKalb County resident with a student in a DCSD school in Chamblee, spoke of her struggles teaching through a virtual format, which the district has been doing since mid-March due to COVID-19.

“[I’m a] 24-year teacher in the Georgia public school system. I’d like to talk to you today as a teacher … Teaching in a virtual class is one of the hardest things I’ve done,” said Buck. “Please, I ask that you give us a choice.”

Buck said many students are struggling with social and emotional isolation and internet connection issues. She added that the school where she teaches [outside DeKalb County] is offering in-person instruction for families who opted in, and she said it is helping students engage with their work.

“With proper safety protocols in place, we started with 25 percent of our class one day a week. Now we’re at 100 percent five days a week,” said Buck. “Hybrid teaching is hard. [Since] having students back in the classroom safely, I’ve already seen a dramatic change in engagement.”

When DCSD Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris announced Oct. 6 that the 14-day average of positive COVID-19 cases per 100,000 DeKalb County residents dropped from 122 cases on Sept. 12 to 93 cases, it was later announced that staff was expected to begin the hybrid model transition Oct. 19, and second, sixth, and ninth graders on Nov. 5. Other students who are opted into the hybrid model were planned to begin in-person learning Nov. 9.

However, as of Oct. 14, the average was 103 positive cases over a 14-day period, which is above the district’s guidelines of a 100 positive case threshold set to begin a hybrid learning environment, which resulted in the district’s delay in returning to in-person learning.

“The average will continue to be monitored daily because we have chosen to be guided by science and data available to us,” stated Watson-Harris. “The DCSD COVID-19 Re-Opening Task Force continues to monitor the trends and make adjustments as warranted to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, faculty, and staff.”

Several community members during the community meeting questioned DCSD and the board for using the metric of cases per 100,000 residents and questioned why other counties are returning to school with similar numbers.

“The county seems to only be using one metric and disregarding other [metrics],” said Amy Delaney. “This metric is literally unattainable without a vaccine.”

On Oct.12 the district announced that it would allow a limited number of fans into athletic games.

John Carmen, a DCSD parent, said his family is frustrated because students can perform on the football field and receive in-person instruction for softball, but the district has not given an option for in-person class instruction. 

“Sporting facilities are open, even for fans, while [schools] are still closed,” said Carmen.

A few community members also spoke against returning to in-person instruction during the meeting.

Amy Jaret, a teacher at Clarkston High School, said she had to inform students, teachers and faculty about COVID deaths and sicknesses.

“There cannot be a one size fits all reopening plan when we know there is not a similar experience [with COVID],” said Jaret. “If you open [too early], students, teachers and our family members will die.” 

Wendy Hamilton said she has a student at Fernbank Elementary School and is in favor of virtual learning because Hamilton is at a high risk for COVID 19. 

“Virtual learning has been a much better fit for our family this fall,” said Hamilton. “I myself am high risk for COVID.”  

Hamilton said she doesn’t want to have a discussion with her daughter about how her daughter returning to school could put Hamilton’s life in danger. 

“Virtual learning is working for us,” said Hamilton. “We don’t have the data to show it’s not working in the way some parents say.” 

On Oct. 9, the district sent an “Intent to Return” form to parents and guardians who will decide whether to keep their children in distance/remote learning or to participate in hybrid learning, in which the student would attend class in-person part of the week and learn virtually for the remainder. Responses are being accepted through Oct. 23.

While many spoke in favor of in-person learning during the community input meeting, survey results presented during the Board of Education’s Oct. 19 work session showed otherwise. 

More than 62 percent of employees and 52 percent of parent/guardians responded that they are “uncomfortable” returning to school in a hybrid model. Those percentage grew large when asked on about returning to school in a traditional “in-person” model.  Eighty-two percent of staff and 66 percent of parent/guardians were “uncomfortable” moving to traditional learning.

*Reporter Jay Phillips contributed to this article.

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