“I am going back because I know the students need me, but I am scared for all of us.”
Atlanta’s schools, which serve about 52,000 students, are among the earliest in the country to open, and they provide a glimpse at the immediate future facing other big-city districts. Los Angeles opens its public schools on Aug. 16, Chicago on Aug. 30, and Philadelphia on Aug. 31. In Atlanta, public health advocates are pushing hard to get more teenagers and their parents inoculated, but their message has not gained widespread acceptance. Among the school staff, the vaccination rate is about 58 percent.
At one local charter school, which reopened last week, trouble with the virus has already emerged. Charles R. Drew Charter School has had to quarantine some 278 students, faculty and staff since reopening.
Drew had tested 1,900 students in the week before school started; masks were required, as were social distancing and regular temperature checks. But as of Thursday afternoon, 19 students and seven staff members had tested positive for the virus.
Peter McKnight, the head of school, said that mitigation efforts kept things from being far worse, but he hopes that parents, teachers and leaders at other schools can learn from his school’s experience.
Atlanta public school officials, who are requiring most students to return to in-person learning, say they are combating broad distrust of the medical system, rooted partly in the historical mistreatment of Black people and other people of color. Last spring, said Lisa Herring, the district’s superintendent, a vast majority of families that did not send their children to in-person classes were Black and Latino. Many of those same families are now resisting vaccines.