ATLANTA — In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Fulton County Superior Court, the Georgia Association of Educators say Governor Brian Kemp, state education officials, DPH Commissioner Kathleen Toomey and Paulding County school officials were reckless by opening school buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic as the school year started.
Channel 2′s Chris Jose was in Paulding County, where educators say the decisions put the health and safety of Georgia’s 1.8 million public school students at risk by violating Georgia’s Constitutional mandate that all students receive an “adequate public education.”
They cite examples like the viral video showing crowded hallways in Paulding and other Georgia schools as a disregard for student safety and the safety of school workers. North Paulding High School was one of several schools around the state forced to shut down due to outbreaks in August. The schools all were disinfected before they reopened.
In a statement, the GAE wrote:
“Georgia’s 1.8 million public school students deserve to be safe and healthy in all school settings. They should be in spaces that do not risk their health and by extension, the health of their family and friends,” said Lisa Morgan, a local kindergarten teacher and president of GAE. “Decisions by some of our leaders have led to classroom and school environments that endanger our children. As an organization of educators, that goes against the very nature of who we are and what we do for our students every day. That is why today GAE, along with other plaintiffs, saw the need to file suit.”
Jose checked the coronavirus statistics for Paulding County and found that there have only been 74 cases per 100,000 people in Paulding County during the last two weeks, one of the lowest rates in metro Atlanta.
Some parents said the risk was worth it. Spence Bowen has two daughters at South Paulding High School.
“I’m willing to take the chance for my kids to have a 1% chance of getting it,” Bowen said. “My girls are willing to take that chance.”
Bowen hopes Paulding County leaders don’t put in more restrictions or close schools. His oldest daughter is a senior and was just named to homecoming court.
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“It’s very upsetting to me to see her upset that she can’t enjoy her senior year,” Bowen said.
The GAE says they understand virtual learning is not ideal and that it places stress on parents, students and teachers. They say the overriding concern is to keep everyone safe.
“Public health experts across the country and the world have issued extensive recommendations regarding whether and how schools should reopen. While these recommendations vary in terms of their details and precise thresholds for reopening schools, a clear model has emerged: schools should only be opened for in-person instruction where levels of COVID-19 transmission in the surrounding community are low; and once this criteria is met, schools must implement mitigation measures to reduce the risk of transmission.”