DeKalb superintendent discusses teachers return to the classroom amid COVID concerns

For the first time since March of last year, DeKalb County School District teachers were back in the classroom on Monday.

It marked the beginning of the first step of a three-phase plan to get kids back into the classroom. Phase two calls for students to begin returning on Jan. 19.

The plan sparked a couple protests outside the district’s Stone Mountain headquarters in the past two weeks, with those parents and teachers calling on the district to stay virtual longer as COVID-19 cases are on the rise.

Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris said the district heard the protesters’ concerns, but believes they’re reopening safely.

"The safety of our staff and our students as our number one priority," Watson-Harris said. "We felt confident that we could receive the teachers who wanted to return today in a safe manner, and so we've proceeded with that."

The district’s plan to reopen calls for mandatory masks and social distancing, stepped-up sanitization of classrooms, and contact tracing efforts in partnership with the DeKalb Board of Health.  

"We felt confident that having our mitigation strategies in place, having our hand sanitizer, our signage, that we would be able to welcome teachers back safely and have them work in their classrooms while maintaining social distancing."

Watson-Harris said that teachers could file a hardship request to stay home if they don’t feel comfortable going in.

However, the Organization of DeKalb Education still opposes reopening.

"It is not safe for the teachers to be in those buildings," said Deborah Jones, president of the teacher’s union. Jones said she is not satisfied with the measures the district put forth.

"We need some shields, we need masks. We need to know that the children, when they come in, that their temperature has been taken." Jones said.

The administration is expecting students to bring their own face masks. Watson-Harris said the protocols are evolving based on CDC guidelines and advice from doctors.

The district plans to give an update on the school’s reopening plan at the board meeting on Monday, Jan. 11.

WATCH: FOX 5 Atlanta live news coverage


Sign up for FOX 5 email alerts

Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.