Atlanta Public Schools begin mandatory COVID-19 testing for staff

Beginning Tuesday, all Atlanta Public School staff members will get tested twice a week for COVID-19.

The district hopes the move to mandatory testing will prevent or at least slow any outbreaks that could take place in schools.

The school system had offered the testing voluntarily for some time, but now officials say teachers, bus drivers, and other staff members will be required to undergo the tests.

"We've had in many of schools high participation in the surveillance testing, but [it's been] spotty in some places," APS Superintendent Lisa Herring said.

While more than 81% of Atlanta Public Schools staff are vaccinated, only about 30% have chosen to take part in the district's voluntary COVID-19 testing program.

Calling the testing "critical," Herring said the switch from voluntary to mandatory testing was important to ensure as much face-to-face teaching as possible.

So far, teacher unions seem to be on board with the switch to mandatory testing.

"We are proud of Atlanta Public Schools - we can say that for a change - in doing the right thing in stepping in with these tests," Georgia Federation of Teacher President Verdaillia Turner said.

Union representatives say fear of possibly losing their jobs is likely contributing to the low staff COVID-19 testing numbers - something they're working on helping to overcome.

So far, the district says unless a staff member has a reason to not get tested - medical, religious, or otherwise - they'll be expected to follow the mandatory testing program.

"If a person just don't want to comply because they just don't want to comply, when the hammer comes down, that's just the consequences they'll have to deal with," Turner said.

The one constructive criticism the union had was suggesting APS switch to the PCR testing program as opposed to the rapid testing program APS currently uses. School officials say they simply don't have the resources or time to be able to do longer tests.

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