APS educators say they are being forced to choose between their lives, jobs

ATLANTA — Mistrust and disrespect.

Those are some of the words Atlanta Public Schools teachers are using to describe the district’s decision to return to in-person learning despite a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Channel 2′s Michael Seiden spoke with a large group of APS educators, staff members and parents about the move.

The district announced Friday it would slow the return of students coming back. Prekindergarten through second grade and special education will return as scheduled on Monday.

The district will keep older students in third through 12th grades out until February, and then sending them back in a staggered approach.

But that’s not sitting well with many APS educators.

[SPECIAL SECTION: COVID-19 Vaccine in Georgia]

Seiden talked to nearly 300 teachers who said they are now being forced to choose between their lives and their livelihood.

Hundreds of teachers, paraprofessionals, staff members, bus drivers and parents joined a Zoom call Saturday.

“By a show of hands right now, raise your hand if you’re afraid of going back to face-to-face learning in the classroom?” Seiden asked the group.

Most raised their hands.

Not everyone on the call wanted to be identified for fear of being fired, but many said during the emotional and passionate interview that they are sick and tired of being disrespected by their district leaders, who, following recent protests and a huge spike in COVID-19 cases, announced Friday that students who opted for in-person learning won’t return to the classroom at once.

Instead, the return will be staggered for different grades over the next couple of weeks.

That decision isn’t sitting well with the group Seiden spoke to.

[LINK: Where to find the COVID-19 vaccine in Georgia]

“If there are teachers that want to come back and they feel safe enough to come back, then that’s fine, but at least give us that choice,” one teacher said.

Another teacher said that educators are afraid to die.

“We know the power of our job. and I believe that collectively, teachers are the most important people in the entire world,” she said. “And where are we going to be without educators?”

Other teachers said that they love their students, but it’s just not safe to be in physical contact with them.

“We love to love on our students and hug and interact with them, but we can’t do that because it’s just not safe now,” another teacher said.

The group said that forcing educators back in the classroom is not only crushing morale, but breaking their trust.

“The district is showing repeatedly that they’re not concerned about our well being,” one teacher said.

Parent Canek Fuentes said they just want to be included in the discussion.

“People are demanding transparency and to be included in the decision making process,” Fuentes said.

On Friday, the same day Georgia saw its second deadliest day since the pandemic began, APS superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring released the following statement, writing, in part:

“The decision to return to in-person learning is not an easy one. And in my conversations with superintendents all around the country, there is no clear-cut answer that suits every school district. This has been frustrating, challenging, and yet it is our reality. To be clear, we have resourced our schools well and provided them with the materials and equipment needed to stay safe while providing in-person instruction for our students.”

The district added that:

“The health of our students, teachers and staff is paramount and we take our decision to offer the option for in-person learning very seriously. We value and respect the critical role our teachers play in the education of our students and we continue to listen carefully and intently to their input and recommendations.”

The group Seiden spoke to said they refuse to be silenced, and are prepared to keep fighting for what they believe is right.

“Our students are watching. Our communities are watching what’s happening right now,” one member of the group said. “What’s going to happen in 5‚ 10, 15 years when students are deciding to study in college and the last thing that’s on their mind is going to be teaching?”

Some teachers say they are even thinking about quitting.

“Honestly, I seriously am contemplating trying to leave, but it’s like, where do I go?” one teacher said.

There were over 500 new cases of COVID-19 in Fulton County Saturday.

The outcry comes after two Cobb County teachers died of COVID-19 just hours apart earlier this week.

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