DeKalb County, GA — DeKalb County teachers led by the Organization of DeKalb Educators held signs along Commerce Drive in front of the DeKalb Department of Health on Saturday, Jan. 30.
Teachers are protesting plans for teachers to return to school buildings on Feb. 3. The DeKalb County School District has not yet announced when students would return to class. Schools have been virtual since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
They plan another protest in front of the DeKalb County School District offices on Mountain Industrial on Monday afternoon.
In a recent email to the DeKalb County Schools community, Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris, noted that other districts around the country have returned to in-person learning.
“As I’ve stated before, school districts across the nation are making tough decisions on returning to face-to-face learning.,” she wrote. “And now, President Joe Biden has prioritized returning to school in his first 100-days plan. I recognize that some of our teachers and staff member still have concerns and fears about returning to face-to-face learning in the midst of a pandemic. However, with the District implementing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mitigation strategies to further reduce the level of risk of COVID-19 introduction and transmission inside the school, we believe a safe, seamless and secure plan to return to the classroom for both our employees and our students can occur.”
Teachers are criticizing what they say are inadequate preparations and mixed messages from the school district, including no clear plan to test students or do contact tracing.
“Nothing has changed in the buildings. There’s no ventilation in the buildings. We have no confidence in [Superintendent] Cheryl Watson Harris, and at this point, we have no confidence in the [school] board. No one seems to be taking the children nor the employees seriously,” said Deborah Jones, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators.
Jones said that the teachers have been given conflicting messages about whether they would be able to continue teaching remotely, with or without filing an Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation request.
“What we need and want from them is transparency. We’re just not getting it,” said Jones. “We don’t know from day to day what we’re supposed to do. Who runs a school system like that?”
According to Jones and others, teachers were previously told that they would be able to request accommodations to continue to teach from home. Teachers are currently being told that they will not be allowed to continue to teach remotely, and must return to the buildings. In addition, many are saying that their requests to teach virtually from the classroom or to have reduced class sizes are not being granted.
One teacher, who asked not to be identified, said that she requested ADA accommodations in December that were signed off on by her doctor, including a specification that she not be in any meetings of more than eight people.
The district’s response to her last Friday stated that this accommodation would not include classroom settings.
“They made it very clear that they would not limit the number of students in my room,” she said. “I’ve been truly quarantined since March 2020. I don’t go in grocery stores, I have not been out of town, I haven’t seen my friends and can count on one hand how many times I’ve been around other people…not by choice.”
She added that she lives in Gwinnett County and their schools have been face to face since August, but she has kept her own children home in an attempt to keep herself safe.
The district’s response to her ADA request said, in part, “Please be advised that if your essential job duties as described in your job description require face to face interaction, remote working shall not be extended. It may be time to consider if returning to the school building is feasible for you and your health condition.”
“It made me feel as if they don’t care if I leave,” the teacher said.
Teachers are wary that the district will bring students back without waiting for the positivity rate of COVID 19 testing to drop below 10 percent as mentioned in the district’s reopening plan.
Jones said that the district should wait until COVID 19 numbers drop before sending teachers back to the buildings.
“It’s not that we don’t want to be in the classroom with our children. We do. But let’s do it safely,” said Jones.
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