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Georgia Parents Rethink Kids Going To School After Year's Rough Start

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Georgia made the leap to open schools this year. It has been a rough start. Several campuses have already needed to shut down, including one today, and hundreds of students and teachers are in quarantine because of possible exposure. Here is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Ellen Eldridge with more.

ELLEN ELDRIDGE, BYLINE: Students in Cherokee and Paulding counties in Georgia returned to classes August 3, and so did the coronavirus. Still, some parents rallied this week, supporting their districts for having in-person instruction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Give me a C.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: C.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Give me an S.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: S.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Give me a D.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: D.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What's that spell?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: CCSD.

(CHEERING)

ELDRIDGE: Brittany Cooper sent her fifth-grader to school but regrets doing so now. Cooper's daughter has special needs and an individualized educational plan that almost requires in-person instruction. But just a couple of days into school, Cooper changed her mind and asked if her daughter could learn at home instead. The school's principal said the digital classrooms were all full.

BRITTANY COOPER: We sent her back today. I'm just like, I don't know where to go or what to do. If digital learning's full, it's full, but I don't feel like that's fair.

ELDRIDGE: As the coronavirus has spread in schools, many parents have changed their minds about face-to-face education during a pandemic, especially as pictures have come out showing students walking in crowded hallways.

The Fisher family in Woodstock chose to send their seventh-grader, Jordan, to school. Jonathan Fisher says at home, his daughter would've missed out on a year of advanced placement classes with help from a teacher and hoped the district would put strict safety protocols in place.

JONATHAN FISHER: So we decided we were gambling a bit thinking that the school would do something within the first week or two.

ELDRIDGE: The district did not mandate mask use, though hundreds of teachers begged for it. Parent Brandy Heath's son saw problems on Day 1. Students were changing classes seven times a day, going to busy gym periods and eating in crowded cafeterias. As the coronavirus cases came to light, Heath asked to switch to online instruction. The district told her it was too late for that.

BRANDY HEATH: So to hear that - we're not going to help you. We don't care how you feel. We're doing everything possible to mandate safety precautions. And if you don't like it, then take your kid and go - is basically what is being told to parents right now.

ELDRIDGE: Ultimately, Heath took complaints to the TV news. After that, her son was able to enroll in digital instruction. As parents in these Georgia districts are learning, the coronavirus is changing safety protocol plans seemingly on a daily basis, leaving students, teachers and others seeking creative solutions to educating kids this year.

For NPR News, I'm Ellen Eldridge in Woodstock, Ga.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "BRANCHES BREAK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.