Fulton County teachers protest students' early return to the classroom

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Fulton County school teachers held organized protests Thursday opposing the superintendent’s plans to bring students back to class sooner than initially discussed.

About two dozen Riverwood Charter High School teachers stood in silence on the sidewalk outside the school during their lunch break holding signs that read “Keep Us Safe” and “Safe FCS.”

“You might not hear anybody talking but it’s because we feel like our voices are silent and we’re standing in silent protest in order to show that,” said Jerome Dunson, an 11th and 12th grade teacher who helped organize the walkout.

“We’re hoping that the county listens to us and listens to the concerns of the teachers, the very same people who will be in the classroom with these students,” he told Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik.


Dunson said many of his colleagues are concerned about Superintendent Mike Looney’s plans to bring students back in all grades next week one day a week, with the goal of opening the district for full face-to-face learning on Oct. 14.

Special education students will have the option to return two full days a week starting Monday.

“We care about our students. We want our students back in the classroom and we just want them back in the safest, most protected manner,” said Dunson. “As a mandated reporter, I can’t in clear conscience send kids back into a classroom that I don’t think is safe.”

Moments before the teachers walked out at Riverwood and at other schools, Looney sent an e-mail to staff:

"Employees and Staff,

I want to remind us all of why we entered this profession, for our students. In the past couple of months, the burden that we have collectively been carrying has been great, and we have all stepped up to the plate. Your dedication has been noticed and appreciated.

In recent days, a handful of dissatisfied individuals have devised plans to display such in a manner that does not adhere to our professional standards. These plans distract from the good work done by so many for our students and colleagues during this period of COVID-19. Let me be extremely clear, I do not support walking out. Any such demonstration during work and instructional time is wholly disruptive and to some degree, selfish. Those who participate will be held accountable and face the appropriate consequences.

This is not the time to splinter ourselves. It is the time to speak openly with each other, so we that can continue to work together for the betterment of our students and communities."

Teacher Kelly Jeanne helped pen an open letter to teachers calling the expedited reentry plan “reckless.”

“We feel we’re being rushed through the opening phases,” she said. “We just feel that students need more safeguards. We need to take a more measured approach. We don’t have testing, temperature checks. Our cleaner isn’t on the EPA list of cleaners that kills COVID-19.”

Fulton County Schools sent Petchenik a statement about the concerns:

“The phase-in plan is a slow and cautious approach to reintroducing students and staff to the classroom. The Reopening Matrix and reintroduction strategy has been public since July, with updates being provided as new data came from public health officials.”

“From the start of school on Aug 17, which was part of a delayed opening that provided one additional week of professional development for teachers, to Oct 14 we will have been following a series of slow and cautious steps, driven by data, to bring students back to our ultimate goal of returning to face-to-face instruction,” the statement continued.

“As of the most recent epidemiology report by the FCBOH incidence rates in Fulton County have dropped to 142 per 100,000 population and positivity rates are down to 5%,” the statement concluded.

As to the issue of cleaning supplies, the district sent Petchenik this statement:

“CDC guidelines for K-12 recommend frequent cleaning and daily disinfection of high touch surfaces. Teachers and staff play a role in this by cleaning high touch surfaces throughout the day with cleaner. The custodians will disinfect many common areas during the day but most disinfection will be done at night after students are not present. Teachers and staff are provided with a general cleaner and microfiber cloths to clean with frequently throughout the day."

"The general cleaner is Green Seal Certified, meaning it is safer for the environment and those using it. Since it is not a disinfectant, it is safe to use around children. The CDC does not recommend using disinfectants around children. Microfiber cloths have been proven to remove germs, dirt, and other impurities. Studies show that Microfiber cloths can remove up to 98% of bacteria and 93% of viruses from surfaces with just water alone. So, with the combination of using a peroxide based cleaner and microfiber cloths, we are doing more to remove germs, dirt, and impurities than we have in the past,” the statement said.