DeKalb County teachers return to classrooms for 1st time, but some aren’t happy about it

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — As teachers and staff in DeKalb County return to school for the first time since last year, not everyone is eager to get back into the classroom. Many are worried about their health.

But the school superintendent said they have made changes to keep students and teachers safe.

Some of the county’s teachers expressed their concerns in a protest Tuesday, claiming it’s not safe for them to show up for work. They’re afraid of catching COVID-19 after a school police officer died from the virus.

“I know the old buildings we have in this district. They’re not clean and they’re not safe. They’re too old to be clean and safe and they haven’t done anything to make the ventilation better. We have schools that have no heat in the winter and no air in the summer. So what makes them safe to come back in? It doesn’t make sense,” said Deborah Jones from Educators of DeKalb County.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Coronavirus Pandemic in Georgia]

Channel 2′s Sophia Choi took a tour of Southwest DeKalb High School Wednesday where she saw hand sanitizing stations, reminders to wear masks and wash hands.

The school system said there was no wide sick-out on the first day back. In fact, officials said 95% of the teachers at Southwest DeKalb High School showed up this morning.

Principal Thomas Glanton was proud to show Choi the efforts, the district is taking to keep teachers safe.

“All throughout our buildings we make sure that we’re reminding our staff and any visitors to our buildings of our expectations,” he said.

Along with the COVID-19 safety reminders, Choi saw hand sanitizing stations, PPE kits and custodians like cleaning and disinfecting.

“We actually have PR codes. They actually have to log in at the time those classrooms are cleaned,” Glanton said.

Teacher Vernitria Rice told Choi the precaution make her feel safe for now. But she worries it may not be enough, if too many students return.

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Some teachers threatened a walkout but ultimately it didn’t materialize. But at least on educator faced a tough choice. Jasmine Casilla worried that being back in a building could expose her to COVID-19 and be devastating for her family.

Casilla’s 6-year-old daughter has been in the hospital since November.

But this week, she said school leaders are expecting her to return to class.

“I do not qualify for FMLA. And I don’t qualify for ADA because it’s not my disability. It’s Isabella’s disability. I have no option.”

Casilla said when she asked her principal for an accommodation, she got nowhere. She said she doesn’t qualify for FMLA because she hasn’t worked for the district long enough.

“The hardship is a hardship,” she said.

While the district is bringing teachers back, students aren’t coming back just yet. DeKalb Schools are waiting for the positivity rate in the county to dip below the 10% mark. As of Tuesday, it’s at nearly 11%.