DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - DeKalb County School District's special education teachers returned to the classroom with other educators on Wednesday, after fighting unsuccessfully to continue teaching remotely.
The district's campuses have been equipped with PPE, hand sanitizer stations, and signage reminding those in the building of safety protocols in response to the coronavirus pandemic, in an effort to ease teacher's concerns about possible exposure. Students continue to learn remotely for the time being. Under the district's plan, students would have the option of returning to campus once school officials decide it's safe to do so.
One special education teacher who spoke with FOX 5 didn't want her face shown out of fear of retaliation. The teacher said PPE will provide little protection for the teachers of students with autism and other intellectual disabilities, given the unique challenges teachers say they face in the classroom.
"The students are not required to wear a mask," the teacher said. "They cannot comprehend how to keep on a mask, and they are not even required to stay 6 feet apart because they cannot comprehend to stay 6 feet apart."
Deborah Jones, president of the Organization of DeKalb Educators, said teachers remain fearful about returning to campus despite the district's efforts to address their concerns.
"It's just insensitive that the district would ask them to be that close. They're not taking it seriously, we don't think," Jones said.
Jones said educators want the district to reconsider plans to bring children back on campus.
"The district needs to wait until at least the numbers go down, or the number of teachers have been vaccinated, or the weather changes so that it will be easier for everyone to come back together, " said Jones.
DeKalb County Schools released a written statement in response to the teachers' concerns late Monday afternoon that reads:
"DCSD believes that the safety of our students and staff is critical. Special education teachers and staff are participating in required professional development regarding universal safety precautions and the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while serving students with disabilities. Additionally, teachers in the District's self-contained classes have received PPE, such as disposable face masks, gowns, face shields, gloves, disinfectant wipes, and sanitizer, which can be used specifically to support this more vulnerable student population. Health and safety protocols regarding the use of PPE have been established and shared with principals and teaching staff.
"As we return to in-person learning, we will monitor to ensure that student accommodations are implemented, and the individual needs of students are met. Staff should work closely with the lead teacher for special education to implement a variety of resources that are available, including social stories and first/then visuals. As appropriate, school teams should meet to discuss and consider if accommodations in the student's IEP or 504 Plan should be adjusted to address the student's individual needs. The Department of Exceptional Education will continue to work with school-level leadership and staff to address any specific concerns related to the unique needs of students with disabilities."
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