DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - In a little more than a week, students will be back in the halls of Kelley Lake Elementary School.
Ahead of the start of the school year and amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited the school on Friday to get a glimpse of what administrators doing to keep students and staff safe.
"I’m a father, I have a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old," Secretary Cardona told parents during a discussion in the school’s library. "They are my world. I would not send them into school if I felt they were unsafe."
Cardona said Kelley Lake could serve as a role model for the rest of the country. The school just overhauled its ventilation system using funds from the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan stimulus package.
DeKalb County schools got $300 million of funding. Statewide, schools got $4 billion from the federal government to help fund the return to the classroom.
With the highly contagious delta variant of the virus spreading quickly, Fox 5 asked Cardona if the new ventilation system would be enough to protect students and staff in the event of an outbreak.
"I believe that if the mitigation strategies are followed the way CDC guidance tells us to and we take the precautionary measures, then yes," he said in response.
Part of DeKalb’s mitigation strategy is to continue to mandate that students and faculty wear masks at all times, regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated.
"Masks will eventually come off," Cardona said. "I’m not saying they’re coming off this week, but they will eventually come off. We will evolve out of this."
Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, also heard from parents during the event, all of whom supported the decision to bring kids back into the classroom for the start of the school year.
Ossoff said school infrastructure investments like the new ventilation system will help students beyond the pandemic.
"It’s important in the midst of a pandemic, and it’s also important in the long run, helping prevent for example incidences of asthma and helping provide a healthier learning environment," Ossoff said.
The big question on the minds of many parents right now is if the case numbers get bad enough, whether or not students have to go back to virtual learning.
Secretary Cardona said it is up to individual school districts to make that call themselves, but the determining factor will be how many people in the community get vaccinated.
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